Monday, December 31, 2007

Bravery

It's New Year's Eve - one more post before we kiss 2007 goodbye and ring in 2008 with style. The house is cleaned up, the guests won't arrive for a few hours, so I thought I'd get one last post in before the year is out. Last year, I declined to do a look back - it just wasn't what I wanted to do at the time. This year, thanks to the iMovie that Heidi made, I'm a bit more in the mood to look back. Parts of 2007 sucked beyond words, but the good times outnumbered the bad by a comfortable margin.

Here I am on December 31st, 2006, with my one real resolution for the year. As I've mentioned before, I am not much of a resolution kind of guy, but I felt like this was one that I really wanted to make.

video

I also apparently resolved unknowingly to start wearing my hair longer - what a curly top!

I started 2007 with a firm resolve to stop hiding, to be more authentically me (because the authentic me really is fabulous), and to be braver. And for the most part, I think I really accomplished my goal. I took a lot of chances last year that might not have paid off, but for whatever reason, they did. They were not all big things - I didn't quit my job to join a Buddhist convent or anything like that, nor did I sell all my belongings to search for buried treasure - but I do believe that I had a year full of the unexpected, things that my 30 year-old self could never have done.

In so many ways, getting my ear pierced was a perfect metaphor for what I set out to accomplish the night that video was made. That act may not seem like a lot to people, but to me, it really is. It all stemmed from a suggestion by Heidi one night when we were out together sans kid and feeling the effects of one glass of wine too many and I couldn't stop thinking about doing it. I know that I hemmed and hawed in this very blog about it probably more than I should have, but in the end, I did it. Despite all my worries about how it would go over at work or with more conservative members of my family, the most common response to it has been "have you always had that and I'm just now noticing it?"

I've taken chances in relationships, stepping outside of my comfort zone in getting to know people with some very satisfying results. I've been more honest with myself and those around me, to varying degrees of success. I danced with reckless abandon in a gay bar. I have gotten braver in my blogging - sometimes I wonder how smart that is, but my unwritten rule is I don't blog anything that I wouldn't feel comfortable saying to anyone in person. I still am smart enough to know not to blog about work (blogging about work is not brave, it's naive.) While there will always be a lot of music posts around here because it is such an important thing in my life and really the prism through which so much of my life is refracted, I have also littered this last year's worth of blogging with a lot of personal stories and things that have made me hesitate prior to hitting PUBLISH. But I am who I am and I can't change any of it, nor would I really want to.

But perhaps the biggest thing that has happened this year is that, after many years of intellectually knowing it but not wanting to believe it, I have (much as my lovely wife has) come to the conclusion that not one single solitary person on this planet is capable of saving you besides YOU. I have spent a lot of time in my life looking for people to affirm this or that or the other thing and mostly, that's a fruitless endeavor. It's not fair to them and it's certainly not fair to me. And that's hard. It pisses me off for it puts a big roadblock up smack dab across the path of least resistance. It forces you to look at yourself and realize that really, there is no savior. You HAVE to do it yourself. So you get to have a fit and then once you're done with that, you get to the business at hand. And once you start, you realize it's not quite as bad as you expected, and that really, it is empowering.

I have a long way to go, that much is certain. But I think I've come a long way since New Year's Eve 2006. I'm a work in progress, after all! And while it 2007 was overall a pretty good year, I am haunted today by the Casey Stratton song "A Promise Made." I am not melancholy or sad today, mostly just mellow, but here is what keeps going through my head.

There will be happier days, I promise you
And there will be sun in the sky, I swear
And there will be happier days if you just hold on to the light.

My goal for 2008 is to really believe that. We'll see how I do. Stay tuned.

PS - Thanks to everyone in my life who has made 2007 a great year. I will not call you out individually as I will almost without a doubt leave someone out. But you know who you are. Thank you. Here's to a 2008 that blows the socks off of 2007.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The death rattle of the music industry

The major labels are truly desperate. Having been rendered obsolete in the past 7 years by continuing to promote an outdated approach to music distribution, they are grasping at straws in an attempt to stay relevant. First, it was suing online file sharing programs like Napster and Audiogalaxy. Then, when that failed to stop file sharing, they started suing their very own customers. This has proven to be a bit more effective, with most people settling out of court, and in the one case that actually went to trial, the verdict came down in favor of the record industry.

But now, they're trying to tell us that importing a copy of a CD to your computer is, in fact, breaking the law.

Excuse me, but has anyone seen my right to fair use?

I'm no lawyer, but I don't see this getting much traction. The legal precedent is already set with the decision that using VCRs to tape television shows is allowable.

While rampant downloading of leaks in place of actually purchasing the music is at the very least, rude, (I mean, come on, I don't work for free, why should anyone else?) I think that file sharing is actually a service to not only the industry, but ultimately, the artists themselves. There are, naturally, those who disagree, but there has been so much music that I have purchased that I would have NEVER EVEN HEARD OF had it not been given to me for free to try out. Of course, that argument only works if you actually go out and purchase the music afterward.

But to try to tell people they can't put their CDs on their iPods? Well, I can think of no better way to alienate the customer base even more.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Things that go bump in the night

I met up with Matt today and hit the cineplex for a early afternoon showing of I Am Legend. When I heard that this was finally seeing the light of day and that it was starring *gulp* Will Smith, I was admittedly very nervous. If there was anything that the movie did not call for it, was Will Smith's brand of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor injected into a very bleak story about the end of humanity. But he was better than Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose name had been attached to the project in the mid-90s, and once I saw the teaser, most of my fears were suitably assuaged. Still, many a movie is made to look good by the trailer, only to stink upon arrival.

I'm glad to say that I Am Legend didn't disappoint. Basic idea: Robert Neville is the last man on Earth after a virus has wiped out 90% of humanity, turning the rest of them into creatures of the night that are not quite vampires, but not quite zombies either. During the day, he has his run of an abandoned, overgrown New York City, but at night, well, Katie bar the door! (Heidi, you knew I just had to work that in.)

To say that it is based on the novella by Richard Matheson is being generous. At the end of the movie, I said that a more appropriate credit would be "loosely inspired by the novella by Richard Matheson." It's not as loosely inspired as, say, the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter is from its source material, but what the film version of I Am Legend mostly has in common with the novella is a character named Robert Neville and creepy vampire like creatures.

That having been said, I also think that this is about the best movie version of this story that we could possibly get. That's not to say that the original story is unfilmable, although I do think it would be hard as there is so much internal dialogue that doesn't translate to the screen all that well. The novella also has an extremely bleak ending - not a typical Hollywood ending by any stretch of the imagination.

But yes, the movie works - on a lot of levels. Oddly enough, the level it works the least well on is a horror flick. Ultimately, I don't think that's the movie is a horror movie in the traditional sense. Plus the CG was pretty bad - the creatures are very obviously fake and kind of Van Helsing in many ways which is a SERIOUS slam against the effects. For me, I found a lot in the quietness of the movie. Perhaps that's why the reviews have been mixed. I think that maybe a lot of people (critics included) went in expecting a movie packed full of action and effects shots and instead, we got a lot of Will Smith walking around being internal and simply trying to stay alive, while attempting to find a cure for the virus. This was more satisfying to me, I think, than scene after scene of the monsters chasing Neville. The scenes with Neville and his family were heart-wrenching - including one scene in which I am sure I audibly gasped and it was followed by a scene of complete silence. Doh!

Complete side note: one of my favorite scenes was one in which Neville was going through an apartment, ostensibly looking for food or medicine or whatever to stockpile. In a blink-and-you-miss it moment, he very briefly picks up a CD, and it is none other than Cher's Believe! I immediately thought of that famous quote about Cher, something like "after the nuclear holocaust, there will be cockroaches and Cher." I couldn't help but wonder if that moment was intentional. Surely it wasn't, but could it be? That was my private moment of laughter in what was otherwise a very somber movie.

So it's worth the money - without a doubt. Now I just have to manage to get to 30 Days of Night which was eviscerated by the critics, but I still want to see! And Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which is at a whopping 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, fully double what I was expecting for it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best of 2007: Dan's Top 80 Minutes of 2007

I have finally gotten my act together and I'm ready to put this to bed - my favorite songs of the year. I struggled and hemmed and hawed. Some of these were shoo-ins. Others worked to make the cut. Some I really wish I hadn't had to cut. But ultimately, I can't imagine 2007 without any of these songs. It's 19 songs - but it's 80 minutes worth, something you can all burn to a CD which I know you will be doing immediately because you all want to have as good of taste in music as I do. ;) Okay, maybe not. But anyway, here we go.

Dan's Top 80 Minutes of 2007

1) On With The Song - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Angry political songs that work are so rare, but leave it to Chapin and her ace songwriting skills to craft a near perfect indictment of the politics of the last 7 years. The song itself was written as a tribute to the Dixie Chicks and the controversy that swirled around Natalie Maines' controversial statement, but it's so much more than that. I will never forget being at the Ames 4th of July parade this summer and seeing the Republican nominees going by - Brownback, Romney, Paul, etc., and feeling compelled to listen to this song on my iPod as a reminder to myself that the entire world hasn't completely lost its sanity. Writing a song like this means Chapin really doesn't give a shit about getting played on country radio, and I'm glad for that. Simply one of the best songs of the entire year.

2) Car Crash - Matt Nathanson
I have Caryle to thank for this one - she's the one that put Matt Nathanson back on my radar. I always liked a few songs from his album Beneath These Fireworks but beyond that, I never really got into his music. Well, "Car Crash" was the free iTunes single one week and I thought what the hell? Little did I know that it would be one of the most played songs of the fall.

3) Duel - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
This is one of 5 songs that graduated from the top 20.5 of the summer to the best of the year. That seems like a lot, when I get right down to it. But really, the summer was one of the best for music in a very long time. This is also one of several B-sides from artists who had actual full albums out this year that made the best of list. This is perhaps one of my all-time favorite covers, and I don't even like the original Propaganda track! (Heidi and I both think the singer on the original sounds like Kermit the Frog.) But Sophie takes this song and despite doing a note-for-note remake of it, completely makes it her own. Plus, those Pet Shop Boys synthy strings get me. Every. Single. Time.

4) Projector - Casey Stratton
Only two artists have the prestige of having two songs in the years best of list. Casey Stratton is one of them. While The Crossing underwhelmed me, "Projector" is my favorite track off of it. Perhaps it's because I am a complete sucker for a pop song in a minor key (C minor in this case.)

5) Smithereens - Annie Lennox
Annie Lennox is the only other artist besides Casey who gets two spots on this list. I seriously could not decide between two songs from her album Songs of Mass Destruction. "Smithereens" is a classic Annie ballad. It is made all the more poignant by some events that took place this year in our lives. Really, I didn't mean to break it down to smithereens. I really hope this is a single because I think Annie could do wonders with a video for this one.

6) If I Called You On The Telephone - The Revelations
As XO pointed out, this is the best little song that no one knows. It is retro, yet current. And besides, phone songs are almost always fun and cool. This is no exception.

7) Green Light (Freemason's Remix Edit) - Beyonce
Caryle pointed out to me this weekend that she simply cannot believe how much better the remix of "Green Light" is when compared to the absolutely shiteous album version. I do not make it a habit of listening to Beyonce - don't get me wrong - but this remix is so fabulous I simply could not bear to leave it off. I will never forget hearing this at The Garden this summer during Heidi's birthday, followed by "Umbrella" (which did not make the list, but nearly did) and "Hung Up." (Confidential to you-know-who: See, "Bootylicious" is not so embarrassing!) :)

8) Let Me Know - Roisin Murphy
Roisin Murphy is making a lot of other bloggers' lists. I never really got into more that "Let Me Know" - but what a song it is. It's an effortless pop song - the best kind that there is. Others have sung its praises better than I could ever attempt.

9) Guilty (Bimbo Jones Remix) - De Souza & Shena
This is less a song than a brilliantly used sample - but still, the sheer unexpected brilliance of sampling Streisand's "Make It Like A Memory" merits it a spot on this list. I had completely and utterly forgotten about "Make It Like A Memory" until this song ripped it out of my subconscious. The sample does what a good sample is supposed to do - work itself effortlessly into the song and become a part of it, while serving as an homage to the original work. Not since "Gimme Gimme Gimme" was worked so flawlessly into "Hung Up" have I heard a sample used so well.

10) Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Lest you think that it's all pop all the time, here's a Plant/Krauss song to shake things up a bit. Raising Sand is a great album - so unexpected. I was a bit skeptical when I heard about it, but then a friend forwarded a Huffington Post review of it and I just had to check it out. This was the track that immediately jumped out and grabbed me. I have always enjoyed Alison Krauss, and pairing her with Robert Plant was something that shouldn't have worked, but did.

11) Better Get To Livin' - Dolly Parton
Quite simply the best Dolly Parton single in eons, I can't figure out why this isn't climbing the country charts. Oh, wait...that's because most people wouldn't recognize good music if it came up and bit them! An empowerment anthem that is the most contemporary country-sounding song Dolly has done in quite a while. I can't wait to hear it live on February 28th!

12) Call The Shots - Girls Aloud
I was not all that impressed with the Girls' Tangled Up album. It all sounded so much the same to me, but I heard "Call The Shots" before I heard the rest of the album and it made my fall playlist on my iPod. It's not gotten tons of play, but I can't imagine the fall without it. As the year has rounded out, I have played it a lot more.

13) Fall For You - Kylie Minogue
I still think the best song on X didn't make the record. How "Nu-di-ty" survived the cut and "Fall For You" didn't is just completely beyond my comprehension. It's like if "Vogue" had ended up the "Keep It Together" B-side that it was originally intended to be! This is one of my all-time favorite Kylie songs - pop music at its best. (Sorry guys, "Wow" didn't make the list.) :(

14) My Interpretation - Mika
I really don't like Mika - but this song is the BIG exception. As I detailed when this song made my best of summer list, a friend sent this to me when I was dealing with a situation that I seriously would have rather not been dealing with. As the year wore on, it became more and more appropriate to another situation which I would have rather not dealt with. I am fond of telling the story of a college friend saying to me during a break-up "A pop song should not know how I feel!" to which my only response was, "If it doesn't, what's the point?" Hopefully, I'm done with this song knowing how I'm feeling for a very long time.

15) You're On My Mind - Passenger
A bit of an odd choice for me - it's a deviation from the diva-driven pop that seems to dominate my musical tastes. But Passenger is a very Keane-ish type band (even though I never really got into Keane all that much) and I do have a soft spot for the sensitive Brit-pop songs. Truthfully, this song got a lot of play because it came right after "She Spoke 2 Me" from the Girl 6 soundtrack in my "Recently Added" playlist during the late summer/early fall, and by simple exposure, it became one of my favorite tracks of the year.

16) Fallen Angel - Darren Hayes
Darren Hayes released the best two records of his career with This Delicate Thing We've Made. I struggled with picking a song from that album to put on this list - there are so many to choose from. Ultimately, it was a B-side that won out. "Fallen Angel" was a B-side to "On The Verge Of Something Wonderful" and I simply could not get enough of it when I first heard it. It has an infections pop sound to it - reminiscent of some of his best Savage Garden work but would have fit in quite well with the introspective songs on the album. I am so glad that Darren continues to make music without the support of a major label - he has a lot of songs in him and I, for one, look forward to what is yet to come.

17) Ghosts In My Machine - Annie Lennox
This is the other Annie Lennox song that I couldn't bear to cut. I look at this song as a modern day "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" for Enneagram Type 4s. With lyrics like "I hurt too much/I feel to much/I dread too much/I dream too much/I'm caught up by the ghosts in my machine", she spoke to fours everywhere in a language we all understand. Plus it includes a classic Eurythmics sounding "Wooo!....Yeah!" as well as the only cool sounding accordion I have ever heard. My favorite Annie Lennox song in years.

18) Violet Room - Casey Stratton
Wait a second, wasn't this on his Patrick Leonard produced, major label debut Standing at the Edge? And wasn't that out in 2004? Yes, it was. But Casey went back in 2007 and released the The Winter Children - the album that would have happened had Standing at the Edge not happened. I have always loved "Violet Room" - if for no other reason than it has a bridge to die for. While I have always appreciated Patrick Leonard's production on Standing at the Edge more than most Casey fans, I must say that this version of "Violet Room" completely trumps the other. Lyrically, it's slightly different, and the new production suits the lyrics so much better. Simply gorgeous.

19) Two Times Blue - Debbie Harry
I blogged this song endlessly this summer, and it has racked up nearly 100 plays since my first download of it in early June of 2007. It is probably the song of the year, at least from the number of times played. I keep using the word "effortless" when describing song - but really, effortless songs really make the best pop songs. And this is one of those songs. Despite the fact that she really is the love child of Anne Murray and Hilary Clinton in the video, the song is top notch vocally and production-wise. The album may have not lived up to the pop stomper that is "Two Times Blue" but this song will always embody the summer of 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Something Anna and I must "Cher"

The surprise gift of the year was a gift from Heidi to both Anna and me. I was puzzled - what could possibly be to both of us? I really had no idea. But honestly, I should have known better, for it was none other than the diva herself.

We love her - although her hair is a bit on the Play-Doh side and not at all like she was advertised on the Enterainment Earth web site. But it is a perfect gift for the both of us - appealing both to Anna's love of Barbies and my unabashed love of the divas (and singers with large gay followings.) And oddly, she fits in well with the monsters already present on the shelves in my office, although I have a feeling Cher will not be residing there most of the time.

Anyway, here's a video from Christmas morning (warning - I look LOVELY in it, although thankfully, I have very little actual screen time) - with Zombie Hulk and Cher doing a duet. Only in our house could such a thing be possible. But I'm glad it's in my house.



and no worries about using the "Follow this you bitches!" around Anna - she's watched the Farewell Tour a half a zillion times.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And so this was Christmas

So Christmas is over for another year - well, it will be in a couple hours anyway. I think we had a pretty good one overall. Even though I was very oddly tired for a lot of the 4 days I had off, I feel pretty good tonight and I think I'm ready for a run of three evenings before another 4 days off.

Predictably, we woke up before 7AM today as Anna was ready to go investigate what Santa had brought her. She made out like a bandit - I don't recall ever having such loot at Christmas time. But as I've pointed out before, our childhoods are not really comparable because I was not an only child. Anyway, she got lots of good stuff - some fun toys and more Littlest Pet Shop stuff which she loves. She is still in awe over Butterscotch aka Spirit the FurReal pony that Jeff (her godfather) and Caryle purchased for her this year. Anything we could have gotten her is pretty much chopped liver next to that. But Heidi's going to blog Butterscotch so I wouldn't dare to steal her thunder although I will say that Anna sleeps with the head of the horse right next to her bed, which is just a little too Godfather for me. (Which just reminds me of this, which I am SO getting when I have $45 just sitting around burning a hole in my pocket.)

Santa also brought an iPod stage for Anna since we seem to be carting the one we have up and down the stairs all the time. It seriously needs GPS tracking on it as I can never find it. The only problem is that the one Anna got doesn't work. The volume goes up and down. It cuts out randomly during songs. We have the receipt and all the pieces, but how does one go about exchanging a present that is supposed to be from Santa? Anna is one smart cookie and is not easily fooled, but she fell hook, line and sinker for my story that I e-mailed the elves and found out we needed to take it to Kohl's to get it fixed. Not sure how well that will play in even a year or two, but thank God it seemed to work this year.

One of the best things I got this year was something that was from Anna, who always wants to get me "something scary" for my shelf. Usually, that translates into some kind of horror action figure for my shelf in my office. This year proved to be no exception - and it was something totally unexpected. Yes, my 6 year-old thought it would be a good idea to purchase Zombie Hulk for her dad. She was, naturally, correct.

As it turns out, they have Zombie Spiderman and Zombie Captain America down at Mayhem, which I might have to pick up at some point in time as the bases all connect together. I love the addition of the "eaten" Silver Surfer on the base. Nice touch.

Speaking of being eaten, one of the earliest gifts we purchased was a Barbie wheelchair. We got it off of eBay right after we got back from Phoenix in October. While we were there, my brother's dog, Eddie, found one of Anna's Barbie's and partially mauled it - just one foot and part of one arm. We went online to see how much if it could be easily replaced, and wouldn't you know, it's one of the dolls that costs $60 to replace! So instead of doing that, we got a wheelchair for her - Anna loved it.

And just because I can, here's a Christmas morning picture of Anna with some of her loot - and Spirit (she renamed the pony.)

Mostly though, I had a good time being at home with my girls and seeing family and friends. I can't say that I'm terribly looking forward to returning to work tomorrow, but that's mostly just vacation brain talking.

Merry Christmas!


Just taking a minute out of a busy morning to wish all who stop by this blog every day (or even just once or twice) a MERRY CHRISTMAS! It's been a good Christmas around here - more on that later - but for now, we're getting ready to sit back with our new DVD player (the old one was on its last legs + we couldn't figure out how to crack the region-coding) and have a relaxing day.

Hope everyone else is having a great Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Are you what you are or what?

I found myself thinking of this picture tonight. I blogged it at about this time last year. Every time I look at it, I see myself in the picture (center right), looking melancholy for reasons long since forgotten. Here it is again, just for the nuts of it.

I'm pretty sure I was either a freshman or sophomore in high school - 1986 or 87. My mom is drinking pop out of glass bottle (how I wish we could still do that!!) and it looks like we're all getting ready to open presents. In any event, despite the festivities and the ready made excuse to be happy that Christmas really is, there I am being melancholy. Unnecessarily so.

I am fond of saying that a lot of my teenage years - hell, a lot of my life - has been spent in unnecessary melancholy. Of course, that is not true in the strictest sense. Neither has most of my life been miserable, nor has all the melancholy I have experienced been unnecessary. But I think that there are a lot of times in my life where I sucked the fun right out of a situation for completely no reason. Naturally, this hurt no one more than me.

It has only been in the most recent past that I think I have truly identified the source of the melancholy that has pursued me, as well as the melancholy that I have pursued. So much of my life is spent thinking "what will the neighbors say?" or some reasonable facsimile of that sentiment. Heidi and I were talking about this tonight. I always worry about what I should be doing or what others are expecting me to do rather than taking a good hard look at myself and saying "what the hell do you WANT to do?" I have a great deal of difficulty doing things for myself - and when I do, I deconstruct them to oblivion so as to negate any possible fun that I might have partaking in them. Perhaps that's residual Lutheran guilt - it's okay to have fun as long as you're feeling guilty about having fun. I even second guessed myself on those Dolly Parton tickets - do we have the money? Can we get someone to stay overnight with Anna? - rather than just saying, "no, this is something I want to do and, by God, I'm going to do it."

So which of these Dans am I? I mean, I am a Gemini (and a damn good one at that) so there is bound to be some duality, but one side has to win out eventually. And I think I am tired of the "what will the neighbors say?" side. Long time readers (and long time people in my life) will know that I have been at this point before - but I don't think that I have made the jump, nor have I been quite as ready for the jump - as I am at this very minute.

The lesson to be learned, I think, is that just like in that picture above, the reasons for the melancholy are usually forgotten. No matter how serious they seem at the time, they will dissolve into the past. I can do that now with a lot of things that seemed like the end of the world when I was in college. Either I have forgotten them or can view them from the vantage point of 15 years out and see that really, it was an over reaction.

So anyway, this picture was captured of me just last night - we had Caryle, Jeff and Mary up for a Christmas get-together. I think I like this guy better than the one in the 1986-7 picture.

It truly needs to be my new avatar.

And for those that may be growing weary of my serious posts (well, too bad, it's my blog), this will probably be my last one till the New Year (although I still have a few other posts to get out before 2008 - my top songs of the year not the least of them.) I am not a big resolutions guy, but I made a resolution last year that I am very proud to say that I kept. And in damn fine form too if I do say so myself.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Backwoods Barbie

Well, I've purchased my first set of concert tickets for the year (and as it's shaping up, they will likely not be my last.) And it is for none other than the First Lady of country music - Dolly Parton. She will be at the Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis, MN on February 28th. It will, naturally, require me to use two vacation days to go since Minneapolis, while closer than Chicago, is still a drive. It will also require me to have daily sacrifices to the weather gods to keep the snowstorms and ice storms at bay.

I have followed Dolly's career for such a long time now - in many ways, this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I am very excited to see her in concert, and it doesn't look like the venue is a huge auditorium either - it seats around 5,000 people. My seats are not the greatest - a bit too far to the edge of the auditorium than I would have liked, but what the hell.

Anyway, here's a clip from the first Dolly Parton concert I ever say - on HBO back in the early 80s. I must have watched that concert a hundred thousand times. I remember holding a tape player up to the speakers to record the audio. Yes, I am a nerd. But I am proud of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Name association

So tonight through a very odd happenstance, I remembered the roommate of a college friend - someone I haven't thought of probably since the last time I saw her. Her name was Millie - I remember this because I distinctly recall thinking to myself "why, you're the first Millie I've ever met under the age of 70!" (although I didn't tell her that.) I don't remember all that much about Millie. She was pleasant, a brunette, a nursing student and overall a nice person. She and her roommate Ellen (who was in my pharmacy class) lived in the Quad at Iowa across the courtyard from where I lived one year. The year after that I moved out of the dorms and into a townhouse with a couple of friends of mine, and they moved out of the Quad as well and to an apartment over by Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They lived with a couple of other girls who were in our pharmacy class, so even when they moved into an apartment, they still shared a bedroom. Personally, that would have been a deal breaker. Sharing a room with someone while in the dorms is one thing, but choosing that once you make the switch to apartment life? That's just plain crazy. I can't imagine not having a place to retreat to, a place where I could close the door and shut out the world.

Anyway, my memories of Millie have been muddied by the passage of time, and the fact that we really were never social. She was always "pleasant" to me, but it never extended beyond that. I don't even remember her last name, although I undoubtedly knew it at the time. I found myself thinking of her tonight, wondering where she ended up, as I do so many people from my past who have slipped away and off my radar. Most of the people who have drifted off I don't even think of any more, except in the fashion that Millie came to mind tonight. Others -those who were better friends - sometimes haunt me.

It's funny how things that were so vibrant and real at the time become faded and tattered in a memory. Sometimes, I can recapture that vibrant feeling, but usually only for a moment. It's kind of like the 90s nostalgia that watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 generates. It is so ephemeral - you try to grab onto it, only to have it slip through your fingers. But yet, it's there, you just know it. I'm not really one to romanticize a time gone by. I have not always been able to say that, however. The trouble with romanticizing the past is that it's just that - a romance. It selectively edits out all the shit. When I look back at something like, say, college, I don't remember the stress of tests and relationships, etc. I remember the good times - nights eating out at BoJames, going to R.T.'s (even though the chances of my actually enjoying a night at R.T.'s was usually about 50% and was directly correlated with the amount of alcohol I consumed.) So I guess that's why the past stays where it is.

I'm also not one of those people that says "Oh, that was the BEST time of my life!" If that's the case, I better just quit now because I peaked way too early. I find it funny that the present you're in will some day be the past. That seems kind of like a "duh!" because, well, of course it will be the past some day. The 8 hours I worked tonight are in the past now (and there was much rejoicing) but it's not until you get some distance from it that you're able to see the part of your history that you were making. Every now and then, you become aware of it - things like a wedding day or a graduation are obvious examples, but the subtle ones are the ones I like. The unfortunate part of that is usually those moments are bittersweet.

I'm not really sure where this post is going - it's kind of like me tonight - all over the place. If nothing else, I got my first thought of Millie in over a decade out of me and onto "paper" of sorts. It is not super coherent, I'm certain, but it is nonetheless what is inside my brain tonight. And I have to stay up till I finish this Corona as I will certainly not waste good beer.

Christmas = cancelled

Or at least that's what the makers of this fine film would have us believe. I had no idea this movie was coming out so soon, which can only speak poorly of the quality of the movie - although the Christmas Day release date is a lucrative one.

Surely they've released it then in order to qualify it for the Oscars, right?

Anyway, it's not going to be fine cinema, but I'll be there.



FINALLY, Aliens on Earth, and not in Antarctica.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

She's in

And on the (very) first try! Like there was ever any doubt, but Madonna has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it's still nice to see her getting some props after years of being publicly flogged for just about anything she did.

I am glad for her - but mostly glad she'll be performing at the induction ceremony March 10th. Let's hope she drags out some of the oldies that we haven't heard in a long time (*cough*"Borderline"*cough*) or at least balances it a bit better than some of her one-off performances have been in the recent past. I love the recent stuff, but please - those of us who have been fans for 25 years really do deserve a shot at hearing some of the old stuff again.

So YAY for Madonna - and also for John Mellencamp who is also being inducted this year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doubling back

So it's 11:18PM and in just over 6 hours, I'll be getting up again to go and work another 8 hours. It sounds crazy, but I am arming myself as best I can. The last time I did this, I sat that computer until 11:30PM with a glass of wine, caught up on e-mail and listened to music. Then I went to bed and slept like a baby.

I'm hoping that happens again tonight.

Random bits:
  • Someone in the neighborhood was a hero and took their snowblower to the entire block, so my sidewalk has already been cleared! Wish I could say the same for my driveway, but that is still as snow covered as ever.
  • I broke down and purchased ONE song from Rufus Wainwright's Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. I like Rufus enough, but a little bit goes a long way for me - Heidi always says when I am listening to him - "God! I just want to buy him a consonant!" Not sure if I'd ever think of purchasing the entire album, but the song I got ("Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart") was pretty good.
  • Speaking of breaking down - a couple weeks ago one of the grocery store tabloids had a sensational headline "Jen Breaks Down!" (referring to Jennifer Aniston.) Of course, I kept singing in my head "When Jen breaks down..." to the tune of Prefab Sprout's "When Love Breaks Down."
  • Only 2 weeks till Christmas, we have Anna completely taken care of. Now I have to get to work on Heidi's presents! We have decided to go little this year as we'd rather take care of our debt, but there are still a few things I'd like to get her.

And now, it's 11:33 - I need to be in bed. Just as soon as "A Question of Honour" is over.

A snowy pattern

There are a lot of people who are already sick of the snow. Today we're getting our third winter storm in 10 days. It hasn't gotten warm enough to melt any of the snow that we've gotten. So in other words, it's a real winter, after so many pretend winters of 60 degrees on Christmas.

Here's the radar today.

(For my international friends not as familiar with US geography, we're just above dead center, covered mostly in blue, but the southeast corner has pink on it.)

All in all, it's not terrible. Nearly every school in the state cancelled today (except for ours.) It could be worse because I will take a blanket of snow any time over the glaze of ice that ice storms leave.

It's pretty, but I'll admit, I would like a break from it! It's messing up plans like crazy and I can't get the sidewalk shoveled before more winter weather comes through. I'm not sure when I'll clear the drive after this snow as I work tonight till 10:30 (best case scenario these days) and then leave for work on Wednesday at 7:00AM.

OK, yes, I've officially blogged the weather. How boring. I'm going to go take a nap before work. I stayed up too late last night and got up too early this morning.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Best of 2007: Time warp

Whenever I sit down to recap the year in music, frequently there are albums and songs that, while despite being instrumental in setting the tone and color of the year, really are ineligible because I stumbled upon them a little too late. So before I delve into the best albums and songs of the year (in my humble estimation) that were actually released in 2007, I'm going to spotlight a few albums that I either discovered or rediscovered this year. It's not a long list, but I couldn't wrap up the year without taking a look at them.

Suzanne Vega - Suzanne Vega
I am so woefully ill-equipped to review this album - and believe me, I wanted to. I bought this early in the summer with some iTunes credit left over from my birthday. I've known "Marlene On The Wall" forever - probably for as long as I've known about Suzanne Vega, but the rest of the album was a complete mystery to me. So on a whim, I bought it. What I love about Suzanne Vega is how autumnal her music is, so it's no surprise that this became a staple of the fall. The music (which predates her breakout hit "Luka" by a couple of years) is so chilly. It reminds me walking in New York on a crisp fall day in a time gone by or perhaps not yet happened. It embodies a level of introversion that I could never reach, even if I wanted to. And for that, it is intriguing. XO spoke highly of this record to me recently, saying how it was from a time when he really got to know albums - a time that I fear has past by in this day of being able to buy albums piece meal on iTunes. While I have not always liked what Suzanne Vega has done since Solitude Standing, I have a new soft spot for this album.

Girl 6 (Music from the Motion Picture)
When Heidi was in London this summer, I Netflixed Girl 6, which was a movie we saw when we were first dating, back in that time when we went to everything that was released. Well, the only reason we REALLY went to see it was because Madonna had a cameo in it as a phone sex boss. Anyway, while I was watching it, I remembered how awesome the soundtrack actually was - composed entirely of Prince songs save a couple of songs from the Family and Vanity 6. Some of the songs were classic Prince songs, others lesser known album tracks (most notably "Hot Thing" from Sign O The Times, the beginning of the chorus I was constantly singing to Heidi right around the time of her birthday --"Hot thing/Barely 21/Hot thing/Looking 4 big fun.") The movie was ultimately disappointing the second time around - although Madonna pleased as expected - but I bought the soundtrack CD from Amazon and it will be very prominently associated with late summer because of that.

Come On Come On - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Truthfully, this album will always and forever be tied to its late winter/early spring 1994 association, but something triggered a Mary Chapin Carpenter renaissance this year and I found myself listening to this album as a whole pretty much to the exclusion of the rest of her catalog. There are so many good songs on here - it's almost amazing how many hit country singles it spun off. It was Chapin at the top of her mainstream appeal - I'm pretty certain that she never really attained this level of sales or mass appeal again. There's the well known songs like "Passionate Kisses" and "I Feel Lucky" and then not as well known ones like "The Bug" and "I Am A Town." But perhaps the song I stuck on the most was "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" which I found out was actually inspired by a 70s Geritol ad in which a man watches his wife be a superwoman around the house and at the end of the commercial says "My wife...I think I'll keep her." How times change - try getting an ad like that on the air nowadays (and sadly, I cannot find that ad on YouTube.) A top notch album from one of my favorite artists.

Zodiac (Songs from the Motion Picture)
The album of period music to one of my favorite films of 2007 was technically released in 2007, but you'd be hard pressed to find a single song on the album that is was produced in 2007! Soundtrack albums are always such a gamble - usually purchased in the heady few days after seeing a movie that you really like, only to gather dust (literal or figurative) after the excitement of seeing the movie has passed you by. David Fincher's Zodiac did such a great job of using music to evoke the late 60's/early 70's, with such classics as "Easy To Be Hard" by Three Dog Night and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye (the latter used to great effect as you saw a CGI fast-forward of the construction of the Transamerica Pyramid.) Also among the songs are Johnny Mathis' "It's Not For Me To Say" (used over the July 5, 1969 slayings of Darlene Ferrin) and Lynn Anderso
n's "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden" which I played the heck out of this summer. A great movie - check it out if you get a chance.

Out of the Cradle - Lindsey Buckingham
I'm cheating a bit here as I have not actually listened to the whole CD - just pieces of it. I have been a huge Stevie Nicks fan for nearly 20 years now, but have never managed to get into Lindsey Buckingham's solo material. Enter my friend Matt who I met this fall and is a self-described obsessed LB fan. Anyway, I always kind of liked the song "Countdown" from his 1992 album Out of the Cradle but had never heard any more than that. XO had told me once that I would probably like "Soul Drifter" and "All My Sorrows." I had but to mention that to Matt and he sent them my way to sample and what can I say? I love "Soul Drifter" - it is pure pop perfection. It reminds me a bit of "Family Man" from Tango In The Night. He also sent me the song "Street of Dreams" which was a personal favorite of his (made even better by his description that accompanied the song) and "Don't Look Down" - both of which I also found quite good. I have listened to more Lindsey Buckingham than I thought I ever would thanks to him, and by virtue of that alone, Out of the Cradle merits a spot on this list.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

If only this were real

My sister Wendy forwarded this to me this morning - via SomethingAwful.com. I always love it when people see something like this and they immediately think of me!

How awesome is that? I would totally be buying that if it were an actual product. Nice touch with the "now with splatter pack!" Other pages probably include the secondary jaws coming out - (probably with saliva dripping all over the page) and Sigourney Weaver famously in her underwear at the end of the film.

It's almost not cool to like Alien anymore, but I am hard-pressed to come up with a movie monster into which more thought was given to its life cycle.

(more adult pop-up books here.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

The music better be fantastic...

...because Licorice is a God-awful name for an album. Really, Madonna, what were you thinking?

I don't know - despite the "sweet" title of the album and leaked track "Candy Shop", I can't get rid of the bad feeling I have about this. The tracks leaked and the vast majority of the fans on the net were either lukewarm to them or hated them outright. Yet, she moves forward with what could be a rather ill-conceived project.

We all know that I will buy it - regardless or whether or not it sucks. But truthfully, I would rather she go out with a bang from WBR, than a whimper. Madonna has hardly ever let me down, so it could still be good, but I'm afraid now only time (and internet leaks) will tell.

Although in better news, The Confessions Tour DVD was nominated for a Grammy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Motto

While the new family motto (as decided upon by Anna) may be "No Biting!", today's motto is as follows.

"It doesn't matter what those morons say - our nation's leaders are a feeble crew."


Or something like that anyway.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Random bits

In the place of a proper blog entry (I have been up since 3AM today - don't ask):

I would direct you to my guest blogging stint at Heidi's blog in order to see the new family shield. Always remember the family motto.

I picked up the new Blake Lewis CD - and while it is all over the place stylistically and not every song is a winner (what is up with the "Bshorty Grabs Mic!" song??), it has a good pop sensibility to it and it is getting some pretty heavy rotation around here these days. This is kind of strange as I usually do not go for the American Idol stuff, but for whatever reason, I have really liked what Blake has done. (and after adding that image of Blake's CD, I realized that you can now resize images within Blogger. Can you say YAY?)

I am reading Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and it is a riot. Death impersonating what pretty much amounts to Santa makes for some pretty funny stuff.

Work has begun on my year-end wrap up for albums and songs. Hopefully I'll get those published sometime before the we ring in 2008.

Everybody feel bad for Heidi as she is suffering from full on influenza. She has shaking chills, a fever (albeit a mild one) and just generally feels like dog shit. The flu sucks so bad - and having suffered through a bout of it in October, I can definitely relate.

We got new cell phones tonight - and I have finally equipped my phone to have Madonna sing "Ring ring ring goes the telephone." After paying $2.99 for the ring tone, I realized that I probably could have made it myself, but oh well. It was worth $2.99 of hassle. And since our phones look identical, I have outfitted mine with one of the stickers from the Confessions Tour book. I also gave Anna one which she affixed to her pajamas. Would Madge approve?

I finally shoveled the walk today. Too bad it took a fricking spade to do the job - that's how bad the ice was. It was a workout, let me tell you. Winter is not the most fun - I am already sick of the ice. The snow I can handle - the ice, not so much.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New video hour

I don't work till this afternoon today and I have the house to myself so naturally, I have been surfing and listening to music. I'm not sure what prompted it, but something in the combination of music I've been listening to this morning pulled a memory from deep within my subconscious and put it in my frontal lobe. Hopefully, this will make room in my subconscious for something that I actually need to know.

Anyway, I was surfing around YouTube watching videos and I came upon Jody Watley's "Most Of All" video. I remember the first time I saw this video - or rather, the first time I missed it. I was 15, had just come home from some band or chorus or something rehearsal and was in the habit of staying up WAY too late for my own good. MTV ran a show on Monday nights at both 7pm and midnight called The New Video Hour that featured (duh) the new videos premiering on MTV that week. "Most of All" was going to be premiering and I really wanted to see Jody's new video, so I decided to stay up and watch it.

I did not make it to even the halfway point in the show before falling asleep on the couch. And, of course, I missed "Most of All." I did, however, see this little wonder.



That's right, Rick Astley. I wonder what he's doing these days. He did have a quite good album in the early 90s after breaking free of Stock, Aitken and Waterman that I still own, surprisingly enough. I remember thinking, even then, "dang but that's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' taken up a half step." (It's worth noting that when I was searching for the "Together Forever" video on YouTube, I inadvertently typed in "prick astley" which made my inner 12 year-old boy laugh out loud.)

It wasn't until the next morning over breakfast that I saw Jody's video. I always liked Jody quite a bit - the only record of hers that I still own is her debut, but she has had some good singles. That's really the trouble with Jody Watley - she was always more of a singles artist than an album artist. Her debut album is excellent though - nary a ballad on the whole thing, plus a duet with George Michael pre-Faith. Here's the video that I missed.



I would say that the "Most of All" video is very Madonna "Vogue" but it predates it by 2 years!

It's funny how music like this is the wallpaper of my life. I wouldn't trade it for a thing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

British Isles double feature

Friday night we found ourselves in a very odd situation - we had no 6 year old in the house! She had gone over to a friend's house after school because in the original version of the weekend, Heidi was going to be headed to Iowa City and I didn't get off of work in time to pick Anna up from school. Well, the weather messed up Heidi's travel plans, but we figured, what the heck - we'll let Anna go over to her friend's house anyway.

So we got in the car and hit the grocery store (so was everyone else - it was as if people were preparing for a nuclear holocaust or something), got some Chinese take out and headed home to watch one of our Netflix. It was Miss Potter - the recent biopic of children's author Beatrix Potter, with Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor (a favorite of Heidi's for obvious reasons.) It was filled with images of the English countryside which would make XO eager to hop a flight before the movie was over. Miss Potter is a decent film - certainly not a waste of time, but for some reason, it left me wanting more. When we were talking about it after it was over, we decided that as a recap of the life of Beatrix Potter, it was interesting, but as a story, there was certainly something lacking. There really was no dramatic arc - no fundamental change in Beatrix Potter that drove the movie forward. Additionally, the last third of the movie really seemed tacked on - as if much less thought had gone into that section than the previous two-thirds of the movie. There was a lot I didn't know about Beatrix Potter and I while I felt like I learned a lot about her, I was ultimately less than satisfied.

The second movie in the double feature was one that I watched alone - for obvious reasons. It was 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to 2002's zombie-ish flick 28 Days Later. I say "zombie-ish" because zombie purists argue intensely that this movie is NOT a zombie movie - the monsters are living human beings that are "infected" with the rage virus, and not the dead come back to life. That is all very well and good (and true) but 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later are certainly inspired by zombie films and I think scare as well as any actual zombie movie.

In 28 Weeks Later, mainland Britain has been decimated by the rage virus and the US Army has taken over, creating a "safe zone" in London and are starting to bring people back in. Through a plot device that I wouldn't dream of spoiling, the rage virus is back and spreads through the safe zone. What results is a roller coaster ride of carnage and blood and gore. It also had a VERY effective opening sequence. Despite this, I was not as satisfied by this movie as I was the original. I found myself wondering why this was for all the elements of a good horror movie really were present.

It took me a while, but I think I've figured it out - there really was nothing more to add to the story than what was done in 28 Days Later. Sure, it's cool to see more infecteds and there were a few cool surprises, it didn't really add anything to what had already been told. It kind of had a been there, done that feel to it. It had big footsteps to follow - the first 30 minutes of 28 Days Later, with its scenes of a completely deserted London, would be tough to top.

It wasn't till it was all over that I realized I'd watched two quite disparate films with the same setting. All in all, they were worth our time, even if they both failed to meet (admittedly) lofty expectations.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

20 Years of World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, as it has been every December 1st since 1987. In this day and age, it's easy to just let it go by as yet another day to be aware of something that seems to have long passed its peak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every December 1st is another reminder to me of what, to me, is a modern day Black Death, only instead of killing in days, it takes much longer. In the early days of the epidemic, sometimes it was days from diagnosis to death, sometimes months, but rarely years. With the advent of anti-retrovirals, the life expectancy was increased. However, once protease inhibitors arrived on the scene in the mid 90's, it appeared that AIDS might become yet another chronic, yet manageable, health condition akin to hypertension or diabetes.

Boy, were we ever wrong about that.

HIV is one smart cookie. It mutates and becomes resistant. Fortunately, 2007 has been a great year for anti-HIV drugs, with new drug approvals coming faster than any year than I can remember. Two new drugs are completely novel - brand new in their class targeting HIV at a spot in its life cycle not previously exploited. This is exciting. Even though they are not cheap and not likely to get to places where they are desperately needed (i.e. sub-Saharan Africa) it is still a step in the right direction.

I've never known anyone personally that has died of AIDS, which is strange but not so much at the same time. AIDS is not nearly as prevalent in Iowa as it is in say New York City or Chicago or any other large urban area. It makes it hard to get involved with AIDS awareness as it is just not at the forefront of people's brains as it is in big cities or more populated states. But all the more reason to keep reminding people that it exists, even though you may not see it.

I will never forget that pharmacy that I drove past in the Lakeview District in Chicago that offered comprehensive HIV care to people. I always think about it when I'm frustrated with my own work and wonder where my true calling is. It keeps coming back to that. I'm in no position to quit my job, sell the house and transplant my family to Chicago, but maybe someday I will be. Certainly, it's something to aspire toward. I sometimes get frustrated with myself because I think to myself "What makes you think that the gay community would care one iota about what a straight guy thinks? And really, what do you know about what those with HIV are going through?" I suppose those are valid questions, but I guess where I come from, compassion is always welcome, no matter from where it originates and regardless of the on-the-job training that it might require. An article in JAMA last week (which I have not yet read, but want to) points to a re-emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among gay men. What I expect to read is that those young gay men now were spared seeing their young, otherwise healthy friends die, which makes AIDS seem like something different than what it actually is.

As is my usual form on World AIDS Day, I will pimp what is perhaps my most favorite book regarding AIDS - Randy Shilts' And The Band Played On. If you're looking for real life horror, one need look no further than this book. If you haven't read it, read it now. If you've already read it, it is always worth a re-read. I wish I could buy a copy of this book for all my friends as it was the book that really brought the reality of HIV/AIDS home to me. I know I've told that story before, but I simply cannot tell it enough.

Another book that I highly recommend when looking back on the early days of AIDS when death came to young men (not just young men, but by an large, this was the largest group affected by it) is Andrew Holleran's Ground Zero which, while I was reading it, I'm sure many people mistook for a book about 9/11. It is basically a book of essays which may be true stories (or may not be) but they all concern AIDS in the early 80s when its diagnosis was a death sentence that would be carried out sooner rather than later. Holleran's book Grief, which he wrote recently, is kind of a view of that time period as well, but seen from the perspective of a survivor of the epidemic at the dawn of the 21st century. Holleran is a great author - I highly recommend all of his books.

But there is hope, that little sprite that flew out of Pandora's box after all the evils of the world had already escaped. And thank heavens for that.

(Note: I had to get up and do this post early as we are expected to get a half an inch of ice today. Living in Iowa for 35 years, I am no dummy. The chances of the power staying on are probably about 40%.)