Monday, March 31, 2008

I'll take Manhattan

So we're headed out tomorrow for 6 days in New York City. OK, two of those days are travel days so they don't really count, but still. We're all very excited, but I have to admit that I am exhausted and am hoping for a good night's sleep. Our plane was originally supposed to leave Des Moines some time after lunch, but it was moved up to 10-ish in the morning. Because of the logistics of car storage and meeting Heidi's mom, we're going to be in Indianola tomorrow morning at 7:30 which requires us to get up at the crack of dawn. This also turns our layover in Detroit into 4 hours of waiting. Oh well, at least the chances of missing our connection are slim.

I am excited, but as usual, the night before any big trip like this I am on edge and nervous. I hope everything goes well, which I'm sure it will. I will say the part of the trip I am anticipating the least are the 50 mph wind gusts forecast for Detroit tomorrow. At least we're not flying into Minneapolis. They got a foot of snow today. I tell you, Minnesota never does snow half-assed.

Mostly, like I have said ad infinitum, I am excited to just be there and take it in. I would love to do a little Cloverfield tour on New York (although I'll leave out the crawling around in the subway tunnels thankyouverymuch.) I want to go to the Village and Broadway and all those tourist things. I'm seriously rethinking the Empire State Building since it costs a fortune. I've ridden in elevators to the top of tall buildings before and even though it's New York, I'm pretty sure it's the same type of experience as Chicago.

I will have my laptop with me, but blogging will probably be light till I get back. I will try to blog while I am there. However, let me tell you I am not hauling ass all the way to New York to sit at the computer and blog. I can do that in Ames without spending all the money. I will be checking in and will likely post some photos and such.

You know me, I can't stay away for too long.

Traveling mercies to us, I guess.

Protect the heart worn on my sleeve

I had a friend of mine who has been perusing the archives of this very blog tell me yesterday that the entries from the beginning of this blog read very differently than the ones that I post now. This is certainly not news to me, for I was just thinking the other day about how much this blog has morphed from one thing to another. I also would hope and pray that I am not the same person that I was when I started this blog. Otherwise, what the hell were the last 4 and half years for? Running in place? Treading water?

I'll admit though, that my curiosity was piqued. What exactly reads differently? How have I changed? I mean, intellectually I know that I have changed dramatically even in the time that we have been in Ames. But for me, it is sometimes hard to see, much like you don't notice how much your child is growing when you're around them every day. Usually, that kind of thing is much more obvious to someone who sees them once a month or a few times a year.

I've talked a lot about bravery in the last year or so. I try very hard to live my life as bravely as possible, which for me means living it as authentically as possible. I don't think there has ever been a time in my life that I have been more authentically me than now. And that having been said, I still think I have a long way to go. I'm not an idiot, I know that not every situation in life is going to allow complete and unadulterated authenticity. There are times you have to put on the mask. Fortunately for me, I am a Gemini and I'm VERY good at that. The trick is learning that the mask not really false. It is also a part of who you are, and learning the healthy balance between the two is essential. Light and dark, good and bad, yin and yang. They are both real and both need care and attention.

I think authenticity is a tough nut for people in general, but for men in particular. We are not socialized to be who we are. And as one that has never been what one would consider a typical example of American masculinity, the authenticity part is even tougher. I don't pretend to have a corner on that market for I know a lot of other men for whom that description would be pretty apt as well. And it's funny, even amongst those guys, we can only find a limited comfort for after all, we are still guys. We are not socialized to let down our guards, especially around each other. This is really too bad because we can also learn a lot from each other. In the places where that kind of thing happens with considerable frequency, it's usually something like Promise Keepers which is completely over the top and extreme. Surely there's a happy medium between the bat shit craziness of Promise Keeper-ish type interaction and the bat shit craziness of the stoicism exhibited by the last few generations of men, for certainly neither of those scenarios appeals much to me.

I've experienced that happy medium on more than one occasion so I know it exists. My goal is to everyday be an example of what I wish masculinity were more like. It is not easy. It never will be, but if I don't do it, who will?

In the meantime, I will continue, as does the incomparable Deborah Harry, to look on the brite side (spelling intentional.) I love this song. It's in my top 3 favorite Deborah Harry solo songs. For those who only know her through her Blondie work, please watch and listen to this. It's beautiful. She has kind of bad hair in the video though, I will admit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Girls With Guitars

I don't know why, but today, I was thinking of Wynonna Judd. That is not an every day occurrence for me. Specifically, I was thinking of a song from her Tell Me Why album called "Girls With Guitars." I simply could not get the "he drove her in the car down to Sears Roebuck" part out of my head. Seriously, that's the kind of random shit that goes through my head on a regular basis. Aren't you glad you aren't in there 24/7 like I am? As far as being an earworm goes, it certainly doesn't hurt that the song is so cleverly written, but since it was written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, I would expect no less. Heidi and I are fond of saying that Wynonna is always singing out of the corner of her mouth, and I swear to God it's true (or at least it sure sounds like it.)

Anyway, I was playing "Girls With Guitars" tonight and Anna, who was hanging out with me down in my office, really latched on to it. She pulled out the old acoustic guitar that I've carted around since my grandmother died in 1990 and started hamming it up, especially once she figured out it was "Girls With Guitars."

And then, of course, there was video, complete with Wynonna growling and singing out of the corner of her mouth.



She'll surely hate me for that later, but I'm willing to take that chance. After a long day at work that, while not particularly bad was still stressful, this was exactly what I needed.

I had intended to do a mega-serious post that was inspired by a book I have been reading, but I fear that may never gel well enough to post. This will have to suffice.

Orbit

A quick one-off post before work this morning. Thankfully, my alarm went off this morning which is more than I can say for Thursday. Even I need more than 15 minutes to get ready!

Casey Stratton has released the album artwork for his new record Orbit. And it looks great.

The music on it is as good as the cover. His last album, The Crossing, did not do it for me as much as his other work has, but Orbit is an interesting amalgam of what we've come to expect from Casey as well as some branching out into different sounds as well. Of course, there are emotionally raw lyrics aplenty which are the main attraction for me in the first place.

You can buy Orbit on Casey's web site in the digital store. Ordering the digital copy gets you the physical CD when it's released (limited time offer.)

I'm really hoping that he tours this year somewhere close to Iowa! I would almost skip Madonna for it because Madonna does not sign CDs and talk to fans after the show.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Statue bound

We're getting ready for our upcoming trip to New York and there is so much to do in the next few days. And what really sucks is that I work AGAIN this weekend. At least it is early shifts so that I will be around in the evening to help get our act together (even though it means I will miss out on Matt's Guitar Hero Rocktacular.)

But this week, I ordered our Statue of Liberty tickets. It was not without the requisite drama that seems to accompany much of what I do. Weeks ago, when we first started planning the trip, I went to the Statue of Liberty web site to get details on visiting the monument. I knew that it involved a ferry ride, and since it costs money to breathe in NYC figured that there would be some cost to this. I was right, sort of. Admission to the monument is free, but the ferry ride costs money. They recommended reserving a ticket for the day you were planning on going, especially if it was a weekend or during the summer. We were going in the spring and while I planned to get reserve tickets, I wasn't too concerned.

So last Monday, when I finally went back to the web site to order the tickets, I was aghast to find out that they were sold out. For every single day that we would be in New York. Actually, they were sold out for all departures leaving from New York. There were plenty leaving from New Jersey. The only problem was that I could not for the life of me figure out how we would ever get over to New Jersey. Talk about feeling like the worst parent ever. Going to the Statue of Liberty was the ONE thing that Anna really wanted to do in New York, and now, it looked like I might not be able to fulfill that.

Moments of panic followed, but in the end, I decided that since there was a phone number on the web site, I'd call and see if there happened to be any tickets left for any of the days we were there leaving from Battery Park, which is just a short subway ride away from where we're staying (Park Central New York.) And imagine my surprise and relief when they did! So 47 bucks later, we're all going. Wednesday afternoon. From Battery Park. Our tickets will be at the pre-paid window and all I have to do is bring my confirmation number and the credit card I paid with. YAY! I only wish we could go up in the crown. But in this post 9/11 era, (which, according to the Statue of Liberty web site, has nothing to do with why the crown is closed. Yeah right.) I suppose I can understand why it is no longer open.

I'm kind of a sucker for tourist-ish things like that. I mean, I can't go to New York and not go to the Statue of Liberty, especially with a 6 year old. I am also going to be completely cliche and go to the top of the Empire State Building. Apart from that, I plan on spending a lot of time in Central Park (please let the weather be good!!) and going to Forbidden Planet New York and, in general, having no plans. I will wake up each morning and decide from there. I will try to be frugal but not so much that it ruins the vacation experience. This is probably my only extended vacation for the rest of the year, so I better enjoy it.

Which shouldn't be too much trouble.

Let's get unconscious

Disclaimer: In the next few weeks there are likely to be a lot of Madonna posts. WTF were you expecting with a new record coming out?

In what is surely a sign of the apocalypse, I have been listening to Bedtime Stories in its entirety this morning. That's right, all the way from "Survival" to "Take A Bow." It remains to this day my least favorite of Madonna's albums. It has not stood the test of time like other albums have. Certainly, it is no Erotica or Music or Ray of Light. It was perhaps the first time that Madonna was behind the curve, adopting the mid-90s R&B groove that everyone seemed to be doing at the time. It was probably what she needed to do after the damage done to her career with the Sex/Erotica/Body of Evidence projects, but the album itself has always struck me as uninspired and color-by-numbers.

I haven't listened to this album in an age apart from the singles which are on my iPod. It is even more uncommon for me to listen to "albums" these days as the advent of iTunes and party shuffle has just made listening to an album so 1990s. But every now and then, it's fun to do, to remind yourself that this was the artist's vision for their work.

What I've found while listening to this record is that, as XO pointed out to me several weeks ago, there really are several great songs on this album. "Secret", "Survival", and "Love Tried To Welcome Me" are as good as anything that she's ever done. And "Bedtime Story" the song is one of those songs that has slowly and stealthily snuck its way into my Top 10 Favorite Madonna Songs thanks to some great remixes and a bizarre (but completely overdone, IMHO) video. There are also some absolutely heinous songs on here as well, the worst offender being "Don't Stop" (not a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song although wouldn't that be a trip?) It features the single most inane lyrics of any Madonna song ever, and that includes "I Love New York", which despite it's "dorky" lyrics is oddly endearing. But "Don't Stop"? Try these on for size:

Get up on the dance floor, everything is groovin'
Get up on the dance floor, got to see you movin'
Let the music shake you, let the rhythm take you
Feel it in your body, sing la dee da dee

Certainly not any better or worse than most lyrics to dance songs? Well, this is the woman that gave us "Deeper & Deeper." I expect better. And to add insult to injury, "Don't Stop" was billed as the upbeat dance song on Bedtime Stories. Never mind that it never kicks out of its lazy ass mid-tempo groove. It has great remix potential (although it never was officially remixed), but as a song in it's original form, it is probably my least favorite Madonna song.

Ultimately why this album is so disappointing for me is that it is Madonna following trends rather than setting them. And that's why I'm nervous about Hard Candy. While "4 Minutes" is great and the clips I've heard of other songs are assuaging my apprehensions slightly, I will still reserve judgment on the album until I have heard it (well, duh!)

My goal is to not listen to leaks (especially shitty ones that are web rips or whatever) and listen to the album on the way to work on Tuesday, April 29th. I managed to avoid the leaks of Confessions, but it is going to require incredible will power and stamina to avoid the album leak this time around.

In the meantime, here's a great interview she did on Z100 in New York. I love her radio interviews! She seems so much more human in radio interviews than she does in television interviews. And here's the cover of Vanity Fair that's making the rounds on the blogs this morning. It's fantastic.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ticktockticktockticktock

OK, so the album version of "4 Minutes" leaked last week (not that I would download leaks or anything), and I'll be damned but the song is starting to grow on me. However, as I've said before, there are a lot of unsightly things that can grow on you if you're not careful. Thankfully, I don't think that "4 Minutes" is one of those unsightly things. Yes, the (horny) horns are too loud and the production is too much and the attempts at hip-hop whatever reek of "trying too hard." But thanks to a fanmade remix that I found via Matt Rettenmund's blog, I've come to realize that buried underneath all those horns and production, there's really a brilliant pop song with a killer hook. And I never thought I'd live to see the day I'd say this, but Justin Timberlake's presence on the song is actually a plus, and not a minus. And I have to say that the "tick tock tick tock tick tock" part of the song is VERY appealing...a bit of an homage to "Hung Up."

Today, Hard Candy became available for pre-order on iTunes. I, of course, pre-ordered it. There was a regular version and a deluxe version. I opted for the deluxe version because it has some "4 Minutes" remixes that might be complete shit, but what the hell? There is also a bonus track available from iTunes (pre-order only) called "Ring My Bell" and if there is a God up in the heavens, it will be a cover of Anita Ward's 70s disco song. Given that Madonna has recorded very few covers and disco is not the direction she's going on this record, I highly doubt that it will actually be the cover I so desire, but a man can dream right?

I'll admit that I'm getting a bit caught up in the emotion and excitement that is part and parcel with every new Madonna release. Even though my expectations are not quite as high as they have been in the past, it's impossible for me to not plug into everything that surrounds new Madonna.

It's going to be a long 4 weeks till the album is out. I will have to look for other distractions in the meantime.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Your face is jammin', your body's heck-a-slammin'

I'm stuck in the middle of a Prince mode this week which kind of surprises me because truthfully, I am very much a fair-weather Prince fan. I have The Hits 1 & 2 on CD (which contain sacrilegious edits of Prince's songs) and that's about it. I have never listened to the entire Purple Rain soundtrack and his output lately has been hit and miss (emphasis on the miss part.) But there is one Prince album that I always gravitate toward when I start getting a hankering for the Purple One.

Sign O The Times is the album that I consider to be Prince's best, most consistent and most accomplished. It's hardly an unpopular opinion as many Prince fans also cite this album as either their personal favorite or as Prince's best work. A double album released in 1987, it was shaved down from a triple album under pressure from the record company. And in terms of number of songs (sixteen), it actually contains fewer songs than most non-double albums these days.

As I said before, I am so not a die-hard Prince fan. I have not really followed his career through the years and am therefore, not really qualified to write about Prince in the way that I am qualified to write about Madonna and Stevie Nicks. But I just love Sign O The Times. Like a lot of music that has stuck with me through the years, it takes me back to my high school/college years. When the song "Sign O The Times" hit the radio, I remember being slightly unnerved by it, with Prince singing about people dying of AIDS, a hurricane devastating a church, and the then still relatively fresh Challenger explosion.

There are a several things that I REALLY like about this record. One is that it contains what is perhaps my very favorite Prince song in "Hot Thing." It does not help that it is incredible fun to sing the chorus "Hot thang/Barely 21/Hot thang/Looking for big fun." And it is so absolutely important to sing "thing" as "thang." Five and a half minutes of funky goodness. Another thing I like about the album is "Starfish & Coffee," a little song about Prince and some of his school friends looking in someone's lunchbox or something like that anyway. It's Prince being weird, and if you can get past that, it's a fun little song. Matt Nathanson even did a live cover of it (mp3) which is just a riot. (as Matt Nathanson generally is at his live shows per Caryle.)

The centerpiece of the album is, without a doubt, "U Got The Look." This was really the track that pushed me into buying the album, which was my very first Prince album purchase via one of those Columbia House or BMG things. Sheila E. on the drums, Sheena Easton sharing the vocals, a driving beat and a spoken breakdown. What's not to love?

A great record from Prince. I would love to see him top this someday, but I just don't think he will.

Buyer beware if you're buying this record from iTunes. The songs on the iTunes versions are mostly intact, but the version of "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" (another favorite) offered as the album version is actually an edit.

Losing my religion

So I'm visiting my folks today on my day off and I've been spending some time surfing the various news sites. CNN, MSNBC, Huffington Post, Drudge Report. I've been to all of them, catching up on the latest stuff. I've read a lot of commentary and watched some video. I've also seen some very depressing headlines.

I don't write about politics much. Once upon a time, I might have, but nowadays, I'd honestly rather write about pop culture and things that I'm doing with Anna and Heidi. Heck, I'd rather write about religion rather than politics. The reason for the lack of political talk on my blog is because I guess the world really doesn't need me spouting off unintelligently about the way of the world. But mostly, it's because I have really lost my faith.

Once upon a time, I really believed that politicians could change the direction of the country. I remember 1992 and Bill Clinton's victory over Bush I. It was the first election that I was old enough to vote in, and I watched every move of both the candidates, getting caught up personally in the outcome of every debate and watched the polls like a hawk. And when Clinton was victorious, I was so glad! Granted, a portion of that joy was because I didn't have to see Marlin Fitzwater on TV anymore with his glasses sitting on his face crooked. But it seemed like a new day in America. Finally, things were going to go right.

And for the most part, they did. I don't know that the world will ever know if Clinton's policies guided the great economic times of the 90s or if he just had the great fortune to preside over that which was already underway. Either way, they were good times. Yes, the Clintons attracted scandal like flies to honey, but overall, I was very happy with his performance as president.

For the 21st Century, under the regime of Bush II, I have watched as my belief that a single person can change the way the world is run fade. Well, at least in a positive way. In 2003-2004, Heidi and I threw ourselves into the Dean campaign like we have never been involved in politics prior because we believed that he said what needed to be said and was not afraid of the truth like so many other politicians were. In the run-up to the Iowa caucus, Dean was ahead and it seemed like he might actually pull off a real win in the caucus, which could theoretically propel him to the nomination. Instead, Democrats went with a safe choice and nominated Kerry. I didn't really like Kerry, but a purple turd running against GWB would have gotten my vote.

We all know that Kerry did not beat Bush, even though he should have. The politics of fear were used so effectively in that campaign, as was voter fraud in Ohio if you go for those sorts of things. Anyway, I came out of election night disillusioned and depressed. Four more years of Bush, the worst president ever? I didn't know if I could take it.

So here we are nearly 4 years later and for the Democrats, this is a no brainer. They should be able to win this one with their hands tied behind their backs. But never underestimate the ability of the Democratic party to mess up a sure thing. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are locked in a bitter fight for the nomination, more interested in attacking each other than John McCain. The worst attacks have come out of the Clinton camp, with Obama attempting as best as possible to run a civilized, on the level campaign. But when mud keeps getting thrown at you, you eventually have to respond in kind. This kind of fighting amongst the Democrats does nothing but make the possibility of a President John McCain all the more likely.

Currently, Obama is ahead in pledged delegates, but Clinton keeps on playing the politics of uncertainty, saying things like "pledged delegates can change their minds." At this point, there is no way that she can win the nomination without cheating or subverting the will of the voters. Yet, I see headlines like "Clinton Pulls Ahead of Obama Among Democrats" and I just shake my head. Who cares about that at this point? There's no way for her to pull ahead of Obama in delegate count. What she should do now is realize the inevitable and pull out.

But she won't. Her ego won't let her. She will risk Democrats losing the White House for the sake of personal pride and ego. That, in my opinion, is completely reprehensible. And it has been the final straw in my already tenuous belief that the politicians can change the world.

As Fox Mulder would say, I want to believe. I desperately want to believe, but I just can't anymore. When the Democrats can't stop fighting amongst themselves and see that the real enemy is the Republican Party and years of endless war and gifts to corporate interests, I lose my ability to think that anyone can make a difference. Mostly, this election cycle has just depressed me and even though Obama is inspiring and would be my choice for President, I wonder if, once he got into office, he would just get sucked up by Washington politics.

So who knows? I sure as hell don't.

That's me in the corner.

Burned in the brain

When I was getting ready this morning, I was listening to the Like A Virgin album on my iPod. I always forget what a good album that is. Granted, if it were released today at 9 tracks long, Madonna fans would scream for her head, but really, it's a perfect length with great songs that encapsulate the mid-80s with great ease. Even the songs that Jeff and I love to mock (I'm thinking specifically of "Shoo-Bee-Doo" and "Pretender") are actually pretty good little pop songs.

But this morning, I heard the song "Angel." And as I was listening to it, I realized that I have subconsciously memorized the exact spot in the song where my vinyl copy of Like A Virgin skipped during that song. So instead of hearing:

You must be an angel
I can see it in your eyes

Full of wonder and surprise

And just now I realize

I hear:

You must be an angel
I can see it in your eyes
Full of wonde *POP* 'prise.
And just now, I realize.

It's funny how those things stick with me. And as you know, I just had to share it.

A full day ahead. Heading to my folks' house where there will no doubt be a large amount of satellite television and lounging around. I will also probably get the headlight and turn signal replaced in my truck. That is, provided I can get it started.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Green Corona

I'm resisting the urge to cheat and back-time this post so that it actually shows up on March 17th. In a perfect world, it would have certainly been here on time.

In the original version of the universe, tonight I was supposed to leave work at 10:30PM and meet up with my work friend Ryan and go drink green beer somewhere for a while. Well, as it turns out, things got busy and neither of us left work till 11:30 tonight and by then, it was just too late for me.

It's too bad, because I was looking forward to it. I haven't had green beer since college. I still remember the first green beer I ever had. It was at Diamond Dave's at Old Capitol Mall in Iowa City (sadly, it is now defunct as are a lot of things from my college years.) It was 1993. I was 20. Yes, I was a late bloomer. But I remember sitting there with my friends Rick and Ellen on a night after a test sometime around St. Patrick's Day. I also won a Fire Water Cinnamon Schnapps T-shirt rather inexplicably.

I think I have probably had green beer since then. I remember one year shortly after I met Heidi when I went out with some friends to Fitzpatrick's in Iowa City (also defunct! Good God!) and I almost certainly had some then. But overall, since I am not a huge drinker and an even less huge bar frequenter I just have not had the opportunity to have green beer for a damn long time. So the fact that I didn't get to have any tonight was frustrating, to say the least.

But I was not to be deterred completely. I had some Corona in the fridge and with the help of some green food coloring, this is what I came up with.

Bedelia, I got my green beer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The ultimate Nerdery addition

I am up entirely too late tonight, but Heidi, Jeff and I had a Queer As Folk marathon. Only 10 more episodes to go. That will probably take us 2 years to finish at the rate we watch. Watching that show is not easy with a 6 year old around!

So over the weekend, I saw Cloverfield, which I had initially avoided for competely unknown reasons. I think I got caught up in a bit of a backlash against it, railing against it as a Blair Witch clone and irritated that there was the possibility that the monster would never be revealed. Friends of mine went and told me that I needed to go see it, and still, I resisted. Once I found out that the monster does actually appear onscreen, I started to rethink my opinion. By the time I saw the trailer again prior to The Mist, I was bound and determined to be part of the experience. You can't be as into the pop culture as I am and miss things like that. When it showed up at the dollar theater this weekend AND Anna was away at her grandma's house, I went. It was very good, even though the pretty people with perfect teeth really annoyed me for the first 20 minutes or so.

The monster was VERY cool, not at all like other monsters that have destroyed the Big Apple. It actually reminds me a bit of the Grither from a Tales from the Darkside episode that I remember being scared to death of as a kid. When I found this, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.


That would fit in quite well with all my figures in my Nerdery!! The only trouble? It's A HUNDRED BUCKS!! I think that a hundred dollars is too much for a toy, no matter how many points of articulation it has, even if it DOES come with a Statue of Liberty head and 10 parasites. Intellectually, I believe this. Emotionally and when my 12 year old boy is firmly at the controls, I know that line of reasoning is complete and utter shit.

So if you a spare C-note sitting around burning a hole in your pocket...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unintended consequences

I really love it when something you do or experience sparks something completely unexpected and unrelated. Case in point, last Tuesday I saw The Mist and as Matt mentioned in his post about it, the cast was made up almost entirely of character actors that you spent a lot of time trying to figure out where you had seen them before. One of those character actors was none other than Frances Sternhagen. It took me quite a while during The Mist to identify her, and then all of a sudden I had the "a-ha!" moment and I remembered why her voice was so familiar. For me, Frances Sternhagen's most famous role is as Clara Tillinghast in the 1988 film adaptation of Jay McInerney's early 80s novel Bright Lights, Big City.

Because (and Heidi will attest to this) I am the most suggestible person alive, the presence of Frances Sternhagen in The Mist prompted me to pull out my well loved and well read copy of Bright Lights, Big City. I have read this book so many times that I've lost track of the total number of times I've read it. If forced to declare a favorite novel, I would probably name this one, mostly because every time I read it, I find myself completely drawn into the world of the unnamed narrator.

The first time I ever read the book was in college, probably 1993-ish. I read it not long after reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye for the very first time, the novel that many say inspired Bright Lights, Big City. Set in early-to-mid 80s New York City, the story follows a young twenty-something's voyage through a week in his life that is equal parts disastrous, educational and life-altering. There's something about the story and the club life and drug culture (which the story details and around which the events of the novel revolve) that appeals to some base part of me. The first chapter reads like a dream, as if you jumped on a train that was already at chugging along at full speed. There's a story there, but you're certainly not going to learn all the details in the ways you might expect.

Oddly written in the second-person point of view, the novel deals with death, loss, and depravity but ultimately, traffics in redemption and salvation. It is a long and winding road for the narrator (later named "Jamie Conway" for the movie version) but ride is quite a trip. I think my romanticized view of New York City probably has its origin with this book. It's one of those books that, as I mentioned in my post about going to New York, has all these references to street names and landmarks that just make New York seem like this big celebrity. Reading it now, just makes me more excited about going as I will actually be able to see some of the places and streets McInerney mentions in his novel, even though it was written over 20 years ago and some of the places are, without a doubt, no longer there.

The movie version is, as many books turned into movies are, basically a visual aid for the book. It really adds nothing to the book. It's inoffensive, Michael J. Fox is good playing against type as the drugged up Jamie Conway, but ultimately it is unmemorable. I think the biggest problem with the movie is that, by the time it was made in 1988, a lot of the culture that is detailed in the book was disappearing and no longer culturally relevant. It was too late for it to be current, and too soon for it to play as nostalgia. However, many of the books best lines survive the translation to the screen, which makes me very happy. Nothing replaces the experience that is reading the book, living the experience with the narrator, but the film tries valiantly.

The one thing that I REALLY like about the movie version is the soundtrack it generated. Consisting of a lot of no name bands (along with some bigger names as well) playing 80s club songs, it is just a great soundtrack album from start to finish. Bookended by Prince and M/A/R/R/S, the music fits the story perfectly, with that glorious centerpiece being Bryan Ferry's "Kiss & Tell" which I vaguely remember seeing the video for on Night Tracks back in the day. I remember borrowing this CD from Jeff after I first saw the movie, and loved it so much I ended up trading him my Belinda Carlisle Live Your Life Be Free CD for it. I got the better end of the trade, that's for sure.

Not everyone is going to fall head over heels for this book like I did. I'm perfectly willing to admit that it's a very Dan thing and call it good. But if you ever get a chance, you really should check it out. It's a pity that McInerney never really wrote anything that matched either the commercial or critical success of Bright Lights, Big City. I have read several of his other novels and none of them strike the chord that Bright Lights, Big City did.

I imagine that this current read will not be my last.

Friday, March 14, 2008

OMFG

If we are to believe People magazine (which we all know is Blanche Deveraux's one "serious" magazine purchase at the grocery store), this is the cover of Madonna's upcoming album.

Seriously folks, I don't have Photoshop and have no Photoshopping skills to speak of, AND I THINK I COULD DO BETTER THAN THIS! If this is, indeed, the cover of the new album, it will be the worst since American Life. She is looking a bit like a cross between Hillary Clinton, Deborah Harry and Geraldine Ferraro!

The single cover, however is much more pleasing to the eye (if you ignore Justin Timberlake) - and I found out via Facebook that it will be available for digital download on March 26th!


EDIT: I have been thinking about this album cover and I think my biggest problem with it is how cheap it looks. The font is bad, for one thing, and it looks kind of like something you might paste together for a high school yearbook. Plus I don't think the photo is exceptionally good and it is certainly not iconic in the way that so many Madonna photos have been. I mean, even the ones from the "Human Nature"/Details magazine shoot were a bit iconic, even though she didn't look great in them.

I remember just being so excited when the Confessions artwork leaked. The red hair, the high heels, the disco ball motif. It was all so...perfect. Even if the "f" in "confessions" looks famously like a tampon string.

I cannot speak for Madonna's people, but it seems like more thought went into the FONT on COADF than into the entire album cover for Hard Candy. I was just telling Heidi how much I was lamenting it, although I know that I will buy it. I will never be one of those people that loves everything my favorite artists do. If they put out shit, I will not be afraid to call it that. But everything about this project is screaming "mid-life crisis! must be relevant! must appeal to the kids!" and I just don't know.

It's enough to make this dyed-in-the-wool Madonna fan nervous.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SlacksTrousersPants

I just spent the last 25 minutes with Anna and Heidi, listening while Heidi read from Ramona & Her Mother. Tonight's chapter featured one of my least favorite words in the English language, in fact, it was even in the title. The title of the chapter was "Slacks for Ella Funt" in which Ramona attempts to sew a pair of pants for Ella Funt, her stuffed elephant.

I pretty much cannot stand the word "slacks." For me, it conjures up images of polyester hell pants from the 70s. A friend of mine has a great story regarding his father referring to his jeans as "blue denim slacks." Dear God, there's just no excuse for that. Anyway, the word "slacks" was uttered no less than 30 times in that chapter we read tonight, and every time I heard it, I couldn't help but laugh. This was also the chapter in which Ramona squirts an entire tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink. It probably would have been more fitting had she squirted a whole tube of salve into the sink, as salve is without a doubt my least favorite word in the entire English language. You should only use that word if you are over 80!! But young people are using it and that disturbs me greatly!

But I must report that I have purchased today what can only be described as a pair of slacks. Taking great advantage of a fantastic sale at Younkers today, I picked up this pair of slacks pants. But what a pair they are!

They are silky shiny like any good pair of slacks should be, but dang, do I look good in them! (sorry, no picture) They are a bit daring without being too much so, professional enough without being blah. So in other words, they suit me to a tee. Who says your mid 30s have to be boring and humdrum? Of course, it helps to have the ace of a wife that I do that pretty much flattered and sweet talked me into purchasing them. Seriously, she should work for these people.

So tomorrow I shall shuffle off to work in my new slacks as I just can't wait to wear them. And you can bet I will get TONS of mileage out of the word as my disdain for the word is well known at my work place.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Zombies meet Guitar Hero...well, sort of

I was poking around online yesterday and stumbled across the site Kill The Zombies! which features a ton of online zombie games. Now, I'm not a big gamer, and online gaming I'm even less into, but I have to admit that some of these are kind of fun because they remind of me of some of the retro games from the 80s in their gameplay and simplicity.

However, the one that caught my attention the most was We Are Legend: Akropolis which is based EXTREMELY loosely on Guitar Hero, another game that I rather inexplicably like as well. I like Guitar Hero so much that I came this close to getting that instead of my sexy new 160GB iPod that I am loving so damn much. I like Guitar Hero so much that I actually played Heart's "Crazy On You" in Best Buy one night when we were there. Just like a 21 year old college student. And it was liberating and fun!

Anyway, this zombie game takes the fun of Guitar Hero, runs it through the equivalent of the Star-Off Machine and what you get at the end is a zombie killing game that functions a bit like Guitar Hero. Zombies walk across 5 flame traps set up in front of a barricade. The Q, W, E, R, and T buttons function the same as the buttons on the guitar, activating each of the traps. The space bar ignites the flame, basically serving as the "strum" on the guitar.

It's not bad, although like most online games, I can see it getting old fast. It also gets HARD fast. I am still playing the "training wheels" levels and I am not very good at it. The first level is quite easy, but successive levels get much harder. The biggest drawback is it's kind of hard to tell which row the zombies are in until it's too late, especially when you have a ton of them coming at you at once.

But since it's something zombie, you knew I had to give it a whirl.

(image via some random myspace page which I won't link to because it plays music)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Play Mist-y for Me

I just got back from The Mist a while ago. Matt and I met up at the dollar theater here in Ames to see yet another movie that neither of our wives have the slightest interest in seeing. It's become quite a tradition, one that I hope continues for some time to come.

Anyway, I remember reading "The Mist" about a decade ago. It's a Stephen King novella that is in his anthology Skeleton Crew. The basic plot consists of a motley crew of people trapped in a grocery store after a supernatural mist rolls in. Taking a lesson from The Fog and realizing that fogs and mists in and of themselves are not all that scary, King places some of the most god-awful creatures in that mist, creatures that feed on anyone unlucky enough to be out in the mist.

But what "The Mist" is really about is fear and what it can do to a group of people. As a friend of mine pointed out to me in e-mail the other day upon hearing that I was going to be going to this movie, there are many points in the movie that bring to mind the episode of "The Twilight Zone" called "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street." It does this because while the monsters outside the grocery store are hideous and lethal, it is perhaps the mob mentality and fear inside the store that is more deadly.

So frequently, movies like this go for laughs, and while there were some humorous moments (and surprisingly enough, not that many of the unintentional kid), it mostly took it's source material seriously and treated it with respect. But more than that, it was equal parts social commentary, B-level monster movie and character study. Not at all what I was expecting, but let me tell you how that was INFINITELY more interesting than a monster movie or a gore fest. Not that there wasn't gore in the movie. There were gory moments in the movie that would do a zombie movie proud.

There are a lot of good performances in this movie, but the standout is, without a doubt, Marcia Gay Harden as a Bible-beating lady quietly spoken of as crazy prior to the arrival of the mist. Once the carnage begins and she starts talking about the end times, people begin to take her seriously. She functions well as a living and breathing antagonist, one that is not hidden by the mist but is present in three dimensions. In many ways, she is as threatening to the protagonists as the monsters.

Speaking of the monsters, I have to say that I was amazed at how good the effects were considering it probably had not much of a budget for effects. They also must have read my mind because many of the monsters living in the mist were exactly as I pictured them when reading the novella.

Much has been made of the ending, which is substantially different from King's original ending. Without giving too much away, Matt and I kind of looked at each other after it was over and, well, I'm not sure how we felt about it, other than it came from completely out of left field and I think we were both sideswiped by it. I would never dream of spoiling it here for those who will eventually see it.

The Mist was probably the best adaptation of a Stephen King story that I have ever seen, and of all the movies that Matt and I have seen on the cheap at the dollar theater (Halloween and 30 Days Of Night being the others), it was far and away my favorite. The fact that it functioned so well on several levels, that it was more than just a horror film with rubber creatures and CGI monsters makes it worth seeing. It's not often in movies like The Mist that we end up giving a shit about the characters, but here, we really did. If we hadn't, the ending wouldn't have been half as effective as it was.

So check it out, it's on DVD on March 25th. But don't say I didn't warn you about the ending.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I unpacked "frustrating" first

That has been pretty much the theme of the last week.

Thank goodness this is the last day of my 8-day stretch at work. Although I'm sure that one more day would not have been the end of the world (my personal "best" if one dare call it that is 9 days in a row) but I will be very glad for the day off tomorrow. I plan to sleep in and be a layabout and then hit the dollar theater to see The Mist which I predict will probably be worth about a dollar.

I have straight hair again! Hurrah! Give it up to Heidi. The only problem is that the hair on the back of my head was much longer than I thought, so once we decimated the curls, it has the beginnings of a baby mullet. Dear heavens, Dan with a mullet. Has the world stopped turning and hell frozen over. Fear not, I hope to be able to sneak in tomorrow and get my neck trimmed up and that hair cut off. So, no Richard Marx style ballads are in my future.

I am officially sick of "Love Song." They played it every 2 hours on the radio at work this weekend and consequently, I never need to hear it again. And that's too bad because it really is a good song. Death by radio. This is why I don't listen to the radio. They don't play the stuff I like, and as soon as they do, they play it till I bleed from my ears.

I am loving my new 160GB iPod!! I converted a video file of the Doctor Who episode "Blink" this morning to put on there. It worked perfectly and I can just imagine filling it with stuff like that for the trip to New York City and back.

And yes, we are going to NYC! Another lifelong dream come true, although the best way to do it would have been to go to NYC to see Madonna at Madison Square Garden. But I plan to spend as little as possible while still having a good time and just want to soak up the city. It should be a fun time.

And finally, let's have a look at my awesome new hair.

Everybody should look like me, but then that might be a bit too Multiplicity for my tastes. (someone mentioned that movie at work last week and totally drug it out of my subconscious!)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

No day but today

The blog is neglected, but it's been a busy week.

Tonight, while Anna was playing Zoo Tycoon on my computer, we had the iPod on random and some of the most bizarre things came up. But "Finale B" from the movie version of Rent came on and I had forgotten how much I like that song. And really, the entire musical of Rent.

Let me just say that I am not a Renthead by any stretch of the imagination. My only exposure to it has been via the movie version, which got decidedly mixed reviews. I remember when I got the movie from Netflix and was watching it, Heidi walked through the room and commented that based on what was playing on the screen at the moment, she never needed to see it and probably needed to stay as far away from it as possible. This is likely true for Heidi who had to endure Evita with me twice in the movie theater (although she really liked it, I think.)

But I do like Rent. I think the reason I like it so much is because it was such a part of the 90s zeitgeist. Truly, it is 90s nostalgia, even though the show ran on Broadway well into the 2000s. And it will probably never stop playing in a traveling version. The other reason I like it is because of its New York connection. But really, the story is good and the songs are excellently sung by a great cast. I can live without the Bon Jovi styling of Adam Pascal, but Anthony Rapp is perfect in the role of Mark Cohen. I am glad that the producers of the film version resisted the urge to cast "movie stars" and instead, let the members of the original Broadway cast reprise their roles. Not everyone made it back, but it's a good cast.

I am also a sucker for the big ensemble cast in a story that explores how all their lives are intertwined, which this show has in spades.

But "Finale B"? The lyrics certainly contain a lot of cliches about seizing the day and living in the now, etc. However, just because they are cliches doesn't make them any less true. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today. Yes, I'm a sap. So sue me. I also love how the men and women have this great interplay of vocals. All around just a great way to end the show.

Watch it. It's good stuff. And I can't get over how Anthony Rapp in this clip reminds me of my brother-in-law.



More frequent updates soon.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pajama pants...and blogging does the body good!

Have I mentioned lately how cool my wife is? Look at my cool new pajama pants!

(yes, I took that photo while they were on my body which is only slightly less weird than my friend who tried to iron his shorts while they were on his body. Burns ensued.)

She made these for me today! Actually, it was Anna that picked out the fabric, so partial credit goes to her as well. They are flannel and super comfy and I changed into them almost immediately upon arrival home from work at 11:05PM tonight.

Earlier today, I came across (quite randomly) a study on blogging and social health. I found it to be quite interesting. Basically, what they were trying to say in the article was that those people who blogged felt more connected to a community and had more satisfaction with both internet and face-to-face friendships. While the sample size was small and limited to MySpace (yuck), I think that there is probably at least a kernel of truth in what they were trying to study.

I can only speak for my own experience as a blogger, but I will say that the community that I have built and that has built itself around me as a result of my blogging and other things is a very satisfying thing for me. It is not my be all and end all, but I enjoy it a lot and have had the chance to get to know some great people who would have otherwise not crossed my path. Much is made in this day and age about the decline of community. Neighbors really don't know each other, fellowships and clubs are really a thing of the past. Someone even bothered to write a whole book on it. It's easy for something like an online community like a listserv or a message board or even a group of bloggers to function in a similar fashion, providing a way for people with a common interest to come together and get to know each other. In this day and age, distance really isn't an issue.

Heidi and I were talking about this earlier today and she had a really good point. She's someone who's been part of online communities for a long time, and while they are good to have, they really can't take the place of real flesh and blood people in your life. I think what she said was "you shouldn't be having the relationships in an online setting to the exclusion of having them in the real world." (correct me if I'm wrong, hon.) I think this is valid. As fond as I am of all the people that I know only through email and their blogs, I cannot call them up when my car is stuck in the driveway and I need someone to help me push. You can't put someone who lives in Timbuktu, Internetville as an emergency contact for your child when filling out school paperwork.

In a perfect world, everything supplements everything and it all blends together well. Of course, it's not a perfect world. But I, for one, have really been fed by blogging in so many ways. It helps me to put more of myself out there when my natural tendency is to hold back. It has helped me to become much more authentically me, whether people like it or not, which has caused me to step outside my comfort zone with people I see daily or weekly or whatever.

It's all about perspective, and as long as you keep things in it, you're good. Not always easy, but hey, we're all just learning.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Days go by

I am up later than I planned, but I got caught up reading some old stuff that I wrote several years ago, back before I blogged and even if I had been blogging then, I highly doubt I would have published it on the internet! A journal is a journal and a blog is a blog and ne'er the twain shall meet. Anyway, there were parts of it that were positively painful to read, but the silver lining is that life is no longer like that.

And also, Barnum's Animal Crackers? One of God's most perfect foods. They put the crack in crackers.

Start spreading the news

Life sure is interesting when you let it get that way. Yesterday, Heidi's mom called her up and announced that her work is sending her to New York City for 5 or so days the first part of April. She didn't want to go alone, and she said that she would pay the ticket of one of us to accompany her to The Big Apple. Heidi would go in a heartbeat, I think, but now I've been charged with the task of giving serious thought as to whether I want to go along as well. We would also probably be taking Anna with us, as that long away from her is something that I don't think Heidi and I are quite ready to do yet, not to mention Anna. She would be fine, but still.

I'm torn. I really want to go. I have wanted to go to New York for as long as I can remember. I have always had a romanticized view of NYC. In college, I always loved reading books that took place in New York, taking in the sights and sounds of the city vicariously through the characters in the books. My favorites were the ones that referenced actual New York streets and landmarks. Then I would go to a map of Manhattan and figure out exactly where the action was taking place. I even had a poster of a satellite image of Manhattan island hanging in my college apartment bedroom, such was my love affair with this place that I had never been.

The irresponsible, live and live now portion of me really wants to go. The part of me that is the cooler and more responsible head is saying that I really shouldn't. I have so many things I want to do this year and next, and I am having a hard time figuring out which of those things I would want to sacrifice in order to do this. Heidi says to me that it would be replacing a trip to Arizona that we probably would have taken in early June, a trip that we won't be taking now because my brother and his wife will be in Russia. The fact that one plane ticket and the hotel would be paid for is a big argument for doing it. Still, New York can get so expensive so fast, even without trying. If I were to go, there are so many things I would want to do. None of them are free, I'm sure.

Mostly I'm just musing out loud for if we are to do this, it needs to be decided rather quickly. The first week of April is a mere month away. Plane tickets are 300 dollars +/- 20 bucks. Of course, all this is dependent on whether or not I can actually get the time off work, which is a big unknown as I don't recall what the vacation situation is at that time, even though I was just working on the schedule on Thursday!

So who knows what we'll do? If anyone in the peanut gallery has a bit of wit or wisdom, I'm calling you out now. If not, I'll just sit here and ponder a bit more as I clean up lunch dishes.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday bits and pieces

Today was just not quite what I was expecting it to be. This is made doubly interesting in that I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting today to be. Let's just say that if I had any expectations about today, those expectations were most likely not met.

I slept in this morning since it's the weekend and starting Monday I have to work eight days in a row with no day off. This was partially my choice, partially requested of me, but in the end, 8 hours of overtime will pad the next paycheck very nicely. I just have to make sure to do a little something nice for myself with at least an hour's worth of work.

As I detailed in a previous post, our tax refund is on its way come Tuesday-ish. This will be most welcome as it will pay off last October's removal of the dying tree in our backyard, as well as a piddly little credit card that we aren't using any longer. Paying these items off will free up some money each month for other things. In addition to paying off these two items, the refund will also help pad savings a bit and is allowing us each a fun thing or two. Heidi went and got a new keyboard and mouse for her iMac last night. I was *this close* to buying a PS2 and Guitar Hero last night, but had an 11th hour change of heart, wondering if such a thing was really a good idea. I think I'm really getting used to the idea of upgrading my iPod to the 160GB iPod classic, but I'm still thinking about it.

We paid off the last bit that we owed on the furniture that we bought in January during the whole room remodel as well. Anna and I drove over to the furniture store and made the third and final payment in person. It also gave Anna an excuse to scout the store for the fake food that furniture stores place in strategic spots around the store, presumably to make you want to buy the furniture. Our favorites are the spilled drinks, as if Joan or someone had dropped her drink as she slipped off into an alcohol-induced slumber. (Naturally, I'm thinking that, not Anna.)

I also headed to Mayhem Comics today to pick up the last two installments of Marvel Zombies 2. (link contains spoilers!!) However, I must have missed the boat completely on the 4th installment, because all they had was the 5th and final installment. And not having the 4th, I certainly didn't want to buy the 5th. I like Mayhem enough, but I always feel a bit out of place there, like I'm not quite the right kind of geek to fit in at a comic store. I left empty-handed.

Once I got back home, my mom and dad arrived having been to the funeral of a friend of my grandmother's. I also found out today that my grandmother is on hospice care after having been rushed to Mason City for some kind of nebulous cardiac test that revealed her heart, after nearly 88 years, is not what it used to be. Anyway, my father arrived ready to go to work on my truck. I'll admit, after my day full of disappointments and half-starts, I was not really sure I was ready to deal with my damaged truck.

For those that don't know, about 6 weeks ago, my truck kissed a telephone pole going about 10 mph down a snow-covered city street. It crunched the passenger's side headlight and turn signal and bent the front fender all to hell. The last time my father was here, we tried to push the bent metal frame back into place with a jack, but it didn't work. This time, he was back with a tool that was sure to work. It's called a Porta-Power, and it looks a little something like this:It is basically a hydraulic hand pump, which I think sounds more than just a little bit sexual. After a little bit of practice, we finally got it figured out and, I'll be damned, but the worst of the damage has been reversed! And I didn't even need to take it to the body shop. That's a good thing, for I do not carry collision insurance on that truck because it is worth so little. Now the next thing is to find a new headlight and turn signal, which we should be able to find at any good junkyard for little or nothing. Then we'll turn our energies toward figuring out why the engine dies every time it idles. My money's on a temperature sensor, but what the hell do I know about cars??

I was lamenting earlier today to a friend that I really didn't get anything done today. This post belies that, doesn't it? And now, I'm sitting here listening to Casey Stratton's latest release, Orbit, and am mostly happy with the way the day turned out. And Heidi and I might still try to watch Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix tonight.

Not too shabby, really.

I'm realizing now that this post is long and full of paragraphs of prose, so if you've read the whole thing, bless you.