Friday, October 30, 2009

The clock is another demon

I haven't listened to 10,000 Maniacs' Our Time In Eden in full since 1994. Ever since then, I haven't been able to stomach it. But tonight, I have listened to it in its entirety and I must say that I quite enjoyed it.

The reasons for its "persona non grata role" in my life are, as most things seem to be, complicated. It has a lot to do with my oft-told story about how my college roommate overplayed 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged CD. Many songs from Our Time In Eden were featured on that CD, and it kind of suffered by association. By the time he was done with it, I never wanted to hear most of those songs again, at least not in the unplugged format. As I have detailed before, we shared a close but antagonistic relationship, and even as recently as a couple years ago, whenever I tried to listen to the album, especially those tracks that crossed over to the Unplugged album, I had an overwhelming urge to turn it off. I also supremely hated how everyone declared themselves 10,000 Maniacs "fans" based on their love of "These Are Days" - which is admittedly a good song, but I have to wonder how many of those people bothered with the back catalog.

Our Time In Eden also never resonated with me like In My Tribe did, or even Blind Man's Zoo (which I liked significantly less than In My Tribe). In My Tribe made my top 5 favorite albums of all time list when I did that a couple years back, and honestly, it's still in there. As albums go, it is still one that I can listen to start-to-finish. It's more than a collection of songs, it's a cohesive whole, one that they tried to replicate to lesser success, in my opinion, with Blind Man's Zoo. In My Tribe, like so much of the music that has held on for me, came at a critical juncture in my life that I think even back then I recognized. It is an album that is like the closest of friends - you know just what it's going to elicit in you and you know exactly how to interact with it. Our Time In Eden, which came at no less critical of a juncture in my life, really failed to capture that feeling like In My Tribe did. For the longest time, whenever I would listen to it, I would cringe about bad decisions and failed relationships, which led to its decade and a half banishment.

But listening to Our Time In Eden tonight reminded me of the great songs on it - it goes so far beyond "These Are Days." Even "Candy Everybody Wants" which was horrendously overplayed and the chorus of which I can still hear my roommate singing, ("hey...hey...give 'em what they want") holds up. But songs like "Noah's Dove", "Eden" and "Circle Dream"? Gorgeous. It's hard to believe that they used to elicit such strong negative responses in me. It just goes to show that sometimes even after you think you've lost the music to a bad experience, it can come back around. Maybe there's hope for Girls Aloud yet.

It makes me want to head to the library before work tomorrow and pick up the Unplugged CD. But I don't know that I'm quite ready for that yet. I will never forgive the arrangement of "Eat For Two." A driving song about teenage pregnancy became a dirge on the Unplugged album, and when I played the original for my roommate after hearing the Unplugged version, he disliked it intensely and preferred the hideous Unplugged version. There's just no accounting for taste.



I wish Natalie's voice hadn't completely gone in the crapper. I could use a good 10,000 Maniacs reunion right about now.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Detour ahead

When The X-Files is good, it is so very very good.

I finished the fourth episode of Season 5 today ("Detour"). It was the last episode on the disc so I wanted to get it watched so I could send it back to Netflix and get something else, so I made it my goal today to get it watched. (Yeah, watching TV is my goal today. Shut up.)

The X-Files frequently intrigues, sometimes scares, rarely bores, but is rather infrequently laugh-out-loud funny. "Detour" fell squarely into the comic category, despite a kind of scary premise. The writing was so on for this episode. It took advantage of the what I feel is very much a brother-sister type relationship between Mulder & Scully. Although some label that as sexual tension, I don't quite buy it. I'll admit that it's there a bit, but it's not at Moonlighting or Lois & Clark levels by any stretch. Anyway, I love it when Mulder and Scully bicker like brother and sister or an old married couple.

Take for example, this quote - it is classic Mulder/Scully banter:

Mulder: "Thirty years ago the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia was terrorized for over a year by something. Killing livestock, terrorizing the people. Witnesses described them as primitive looking men with piercing red eyes. Became known as the Moth Men. I got an X-File dated back to 1952 on it."
Scully: "What would that be filed next to? The Cockroach that ate Cincinnati?"
Mulder: "No, the Cockroach that ate Cincinnati is in the Cs. Moth Men is over in the Ms."

And that was just the beginning. We were treated to further witty gems such as:

[While lost in the forest at night]
Scully: "You were an Indian guide, help me out here." [Frustrated trying to light the fire]
Mulder: "Indian guide says maybe you should run to the store and get some matches."
Scully: "I would but I left my wallet in the car."

and:

[Scully tries to maneuver Mulder into her lap to keep him warm]
Mulder: "I don't want to wrestle."

and, pulling from the opening of the episode in which Scully and Mulder were en route to an motivational seminar:

Mulder: "Too bad we don't have any office furniture." [Piling bodies to gain enough height to reach the hole]
Scully: "I can see us now."
Mulder: "Go team! There's plenty more bodies. We may have won the honey-baked ham."

It is such a rare instance that we get to see Mulder and Scully do funny that it's almost jarring when they do. But it humanizes them and just makes me want to get the next disc. And here I was about ready to give in and get Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen from Netflix next. Guess I'll wait to kill a few brain cells.

An added bonus in the episode was an unexpected guest starring role for Rent star Anthony Rapp as a forest guide dude. He is starring in the touring version of Rent which is stopping in Des Moines next month which I really wanted to see but not enough to spend the $50-$75 it cost for tickets.


I love The X-Files. "Detour" was probably not quite as funny as "War of the Coprophages" but it still gets high marks from me. It's too bad that from what I hear, it's all downhill after this season.

(photo via)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

But I do know

I'm enjoying the hell out of the Genius playlist based on "A Campfire Song" that I blogged about a couple days ago. It has really caused me to rediscover a lot of good old music that I had completely forgotten about. So I thought I'd milk it for a few more blog posts as I know there are some people out there reading that enjoy the retro music and the stories from my high school years surrounding them!

For your consideration tonight is Sinead O'Connor's "Mandinka".



My first exposure to Sinead O'Connor was not, as it was for many people, her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" which you could not avoid during my senior year of school if you tried. It wasn't even "Mandinka" - it was actually a song called "I Want Your (Hands On Me)" Apparently she was taking cues from Samantha Fox in using the parentheticals, but I think that was the only similarity between her and Samantha Fox. Anyway, I think I saw the video for "I Want Your (Hands On Me)" on PostModern MTV in the summer of 1988 and, because it was the summer of me trying to break free of the trashy dance pop that has a hold of my soul, I gave it more of a listen than I might have otherwise. That led me to O'Connor's debut album The Lion & The Cobra, which I purchased at Pamida for a scandalous $5.99. In other news, trashy dance pop still has my soul.

"Mandinka" was easily my early favorite. I love how it really is a pop song, albeit cut from a different cloth than the other stuff that was on the radio that summer. "Mercedes Boy" it was decidedly not. (click on that link, it's from frickin' Night Tracks!!) It has this driving guitar that would lend itself well to the never-to-be Guitar Hero: Divas Edition.

And while there are other really good tracks on the album, a quick scan of my iTunes library reveals only 4 songs from the album in there. Of course, that's nearly 50% of it which was yet another positive to the album. It was quick and to the point. It didn't run any longer than was necessary. Sometimes I miss those concise albums, but the CD has really made it seem like 9 songs and 42 minutes of music is a rip off.

I never got into O'Connor's big commercial breakthrough I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. I never really liked "Nothing Compares 2 U", although I do have a soft spot for its instant-flop follow-up, "The Emperor's New Clothes". And then what followed after that album was so hit-and-miss that by the time she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, I had stopped following O'Connor altogether.

But we had a good run, and I still listen to "Mandinka" - probably more in the last week than in the last 4 years.

I've made a personal vow to do a blog post a day in November - kind of to go along with Heidi's participation in NaNoWriMo. Expect more posts of this ilk. They're fun to write and, as I said, I know I'll at least have Mary interested.

Looping

I had a really hard time sleeping last night. My work schedule has been so wonky - overnights last weekend and nothing but evenings this week - that I fear that Monday will be a total loss while I try to get back to normal. But last night was kind of different. I was caught in a mental loop that I couldn't short circuit, no matter how much my rational brain talked to it. It was as if the part of my brain that had decided to ramp itself up was willfully ignoring the part of my brain that was trying to talk some sense into it. The fact that I finally fell asleep without the help of chemicals is miraculous and a testament to either my improving ability to override that part of my brain or to the fact that I was much more tired than I thought I was.

I slept till 10AM this morning and in the light of day, things are not nearly what they seemed at 1:30AM. It is times like these that I can seriously feel the years being shaved off my life and know that I have no one to blame but myself. So we chalk it up as a loss and try for a win the next time.

In much better news, Heidi is now the author of not one but TWO published works. Special Delivery will be out on Dreamspinner Press in February of 2010. Here's her author page which hopefully will eventually have links to both of her books. And you can bet I will be pimping the hell out of them here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A cracking campfire in Anchorage

I made an iTunes Genius playlist starting with 10,000 Maniacs' "A Campfire Song" this morning. It grabbed a motley mix of stuff, some expected (other 10,000 Maniacs songs, some Natalie Merchant solo and Indigo Girls) and some not so much. (Toad The Wet Sprocket? Annie Lennox's "Keep Young & Beautiful"?) The common thread between them for me is, as I've talked about in previous posts.

Although there are better known songs from In My Tribe, I think that "A Campfire Song" is my favorite 10,000 Maniacs song. That whole album just screams early November to me, so it's no shock that I've rediscovered it. I don't know what it is about the song that appeals to me so much. I think it's the whole let's-be-socially-conscious-without-hitting-you-over-the-head-with-it vibe of the song. And can you imagine that there was a time when I heard Michael Stipe's voice on the song and had no idea who he was? His countervocal to Natalie's during the bridge is just fantastic. It is jangle pop at its finest.

Also, I remember playing that song for my college roommate - the one responsible for destroying their Unplugged CD for me due to continual and incessant playing - and how when Natalie was singing "no devil or redeemer" he thought she was saying "no devil or edema." Probably a joke that only a health professional can appreciate, but I always think of it when I listen to the song.

The other song that showed up on there that I had completely forgotten about was Michelle Shocked's "Anchorage". Actually, I had forgotten about it until it showed up on a Genius playlist I made based on Suzanne Vega's "Ironbound/Fancy Poultry". I vaguely remember this song from when it was released - from right around the same time that I discovered 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega - and while it's been in my iTunes forever, it just never got much play.



And speaking of Suzanne Vega, I am quite surprised that none of her songs showed up in the "A Campfire Song" Genius playlist, because I was listening to "Cracking" the other day and realized just now how well it would have fit in with the rest of the songs. "Cracking" is probably the ultimate rainy fall day song - Vega's entire debut album is much in the same vein without ever feeling repetitive or samey. For those that think Suzanne Vega begins and ends with "Luka", play the following.



(also, if I hear one more person rhyme "Luka" with "puke-a", I think I will "puke-a". It's been done and it's NOT original.)

These songs are so perfect for these gray fall days. Trashy dance pop just doesn't seem right at this time of year, which is not to say that I don't listen to it (quite the contrary), but it's hard to get into an album like Kylie's X when the weather outside is telling you to look inward a bit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halcyon days

Fall wears on here in the Midwest. It's actually warmed up a bit but since I worked overnights, I missed my window at getting some of the outside stuff that requires warmer temperatures done as the weather forecast for the rest of the week is rain, rain and more rain. Well, as Joni Mitchell would say, nothing can be done. We just hope for another warm day and me with a little more ambition.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is not really a fall artist for me. I started consuming her music in January of 1994 and her back catalog really went on to define that late winter and spring for me. Still, she has a bit of an autumn vibe to her music, probably because she released Stones in the Road in October of 1994. It was the first album of Carpenter's that I bought as a new release and therefore is notable if for no other reason than the time of year in which it was released.

I was in college when this album came out and thought I was poor but really had no idea. I remember buying the cassette single of "Shut Up And Kiss Me" because I had rationalized that I wouldn't be able to afford Stones In The Road. This is likely because I had just dropped a wad of money on Barbra Streisand's The Concert and Madonna's Bedtime Stories loomed large on the horizon. So, I figured, I'd rather spend $2.99 or whatever cassette singles sold for than $15.99 on the full album.

As you probably can predict, I ended up spending $18.98 + tax because I caved and bought the album on the day of its release. I still have the CD, but the cassette single was given to Good Will ages ago. (along with all my other cassette singles - what was I thinking?!)

Stones in the Road has aged better than I thought it would. I remember getting it and being a little bit disappointed. It is certainly a more solemn affair than Come On Come On. I admire that it did not try to copy its predecessor's winning formula. Additionally, I have always found Carpenter's introspection exceedingly attractive, sexy even. Say what you will about introverts, but still waters do run deep. Overall, the album suffers from, as this Entertainment Weekly review said, OFAS (Overly-Ambitous Followup Album Syndrome). Not much seems as effortless as "Passionate Kisses" or "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" or even "Only A Dream". I felt like the album was TOO introspective, buckling under the weight of socially conscious lyrics and quiet guitar picking. I kept waiting for her to cut loose, which she never really did, except for the previously mentioned "Shut Up & Kiss Me" which feels every little bit like the song the record company forced her to record and shove on the album in order to guarantee a radio hit.

But like I said, time has been kind to this album. Part of that is that it was, in my estimation, the last really good Mary Chapin Carpenter album for a decade. The two albums that came between Stones in the Road and Between Here and Gone were substandard by nearly anyone's definition, although there were a handful of good songs on each of them. But what has really served it well is that which worked against it to begin with - the introspection seems real and true. Carpenter is earnest in her songwriting and delivery, but she rarely if ever veers into maudlin. That's not an easy thing to do. "House of Cards" is the peppiest song ever about broken homes and the facade of suburbia. Who would have ever thought that she could get a whole song - and a good one at that - out of a newspaper article regarding the death of John Doe No. 24 ?

As always, it's my relationship to the music that defines it for me. As I have said before, Carpenter arrived at a pretty critical time for me. I remember reading back in 1994 a particularly unfriendly review of one of her albums (probably Come On Come On), with the reviewer stating that Mary Chapin Carpenter must be hell in a relationship, always wondering how things are going. Even though that sentiment was pretty mean-spirited, I had a moment of self-recognition in that statement. I don't get that vibe from her anymore, nor do I get it from myself. I always like to think that as Carpenter has matured, so have I. While I certainly have no personal connection to her, we seem to be on similar spiritual journeys. So when I think about a song like "Jubilee", which I vividly recall listening to on an Iowa City bus, I can see the growth. In "Jubilee", Carpenter sings:

'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee

I think that even then I knew that I'd look back on those days like that, but I was mostly amazed that "halcyon" was an actual word. For all I knew, it was just the name of a drug. However, as I've said before THESE are the good old days, and therefore are those same halcyon days.


(Who says men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses? I totally would!)

Monday, October 19, 2009

I had to have this talk with you

Dear Dolly,

This clip from your upcoming CD/DVD combo Dolly Live From London has hit the web today. The video is for the song "Jolene" which has always been one of my favorites. Watching it took me back to the experience of seeing you live not once but twice in 2008.



In this day and age of manipulated live vocals, you can almost say for sure that this has had something done to it, but not very damn much. You sounded pretty much this good at both the shows I saw. And I love the little-bit-crazy-grandma bit that you seem to have adopted to great success. But here's my problem. WHY IS ONLY PART OF THE SHOW BEING RELEASED? I know that 15 songs is generous, but the show was 20+ songs easily. If you're releasing that much, why not go and release the whole thing? Call me crazy, but I was really hoping for your version of "Thank God I'm A Country Girl". Perhaps it's a rights issue, who knows, but I can't shake the tinge of disappointment surrounding this release.

Still, that's a minor bitch, but I had to get it out. You know you've got me for life, and I still hope someone buys it for me for Christmas (hint hint).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Genes at work

Anna did this project at school that she brought home on Friday. It is so cool, we hung it up in the dining room.


My favorite part, however, is the part where she listed her favorite songs. Here's a closeup. (click to make bigger)


I don't think you need any further proof to verify the fact that this child does indeed carry 50% of my genetics. And clearly, she inherited ALL the good stuff. Even though I'm a bit plus/minus on "Single Ladies", the other two get my definite seal of approval.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not sleeping

I'm getting ready to work the overnight shift over the weekend and consequently, I'm up in the middle of the night with the hopes that I will sleep well into the morning tomorrow. I have turned off Gmail notifier so that it doesn't bother me, as well as the phone. I find it funny that Gmail notifier was my primary concern vs. the phone, even though the phone is much more likely to wake me up.

Anyway, I usually worry about not being able to stay awake on the night before I start the overnight shifts, but tonight, no worries, because I just got done watching the movie Quarantine, which was, from what I understand, pretty much a frame-by-frame remake of the Spanish horror movie REC which had been released about 6 months before Quarantine.

Holy. Crap.

I know that the movie was out last year, but I never saw it until just tonight. Here's the trailer but be warned, it gives away all the best bits. (Heidi, not that you would, but don't watch this trailer.)



The basic gist of the story is that news reporter Angela Vidal and her cameraman are doing a segment on the night shift of the L.A. fire department. They end up on a call to an apartment complex in which they are inexplicably sealed in by the police department. Through a turn of events I won't spoil here, much zombie carnage ensues. As I was watching this movie, I was kind of silently (and sometimes not so silently) mocking it for not being particularly scary and having characters that are, as my wife would refer to them, too stupid to live. You don't really get to know them all that well - some of them I never did learn their name - but that's hardly the point as they are pretty much Bantha zombie pudu and you know it.

Very Blair Witch-ish in nature, I found myself liking the movie in spite of its paper thin plot and idiotic characters. And then, in the last 20 minutes, it gets VERY scary. It doesn't hurt that the lights go out, and that everything is seen in shadows. Even the light on the camera is broken (in one of the movie's best scares) and then the rest of the movie is shot in night vision. It's these last 20 minutes that really redeem the film and keep it from being just another forgettable scary movie.

It's a pretty capable zombie flick, even though one could argue that they aren't really zombies. Rather, they are much more in the vein of the 28 Days Later zombies - infected rather than reanimated dead. These distinctions matter, especially to people like me.

So now that it's 2:30AM, I need to try to sleep. But every time I close my eyes, I see those images in the night vision camera and, well, hopefully I can get SOME sleep.

Watch it - it's streaming on Netflix for those of you that do the Netflix thing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's all coming back to me now out of nothing at all (but I won't do that)

I have this new playlist in iTunes that carries the rather unsexy title of "Shit I Never Listen To Because I Forgot I Had It." I created it the other day as I am going through my iTunes collection by artist and clearing out the stuff that I do not listen to and will probably never listen to again. I've always been a bit of a pack rat when it comes to music, always afraid to let go of that 4th live version of "Like A Virgin" from the Blond Ambition Tour because it sounds just slightly different at 3:12 and who knows, I may want to listen to it again even though the sound quality is for shit. Well baby, those days are over. I'm being pretty ruthless with what I cut and what I keep, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep the best sounding version of each Madonna tour and archive the rest on DVD-R. They're just taking up space on my hard drive and, as I said, they never get listened to.

BUT one unintended side effect is that I'm discovering songs that I really like that have been lost in the great sea of music that is my iTunes collection. I've chronicled the ultimate inadequacy of a digital music collection before, even though it beats the hell out of having all these CDs all over kingdom come gathering dust. So I created this playlist and have added songs to it that fall into that category - basically stuff that I never listen to because it never (or rarely) bubbles to the surface.

One song that has made that playlist is the 1996 Celine Dion bomabstic drama-fest "It's All Coming Back To Me Now". (watch the video here, I can't embed it to save my life, and believe me, I've tried.)

"It's All Coming Back To Me Now" is cut from the seemingly endless supply of cloth that Jim Steinman has been crafting songs out of for years. Jim Steinman, who wrote pop radio staples like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" for Bonnie Tyler, "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" for Air Supply and "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" (among many many others) for Meatloaf, knows cheese when he hears it and is not afraid to squeeze every last ounce of sturm and drang from every note. But an side effect of this is that they all kind of sound the same. I still think that you can sing "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" over the top of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" in much the same way you can sing Rick Astley's "Together Forever" over "Never Gonna Give You Up."

Yes, a little bit goes a long way with Jim Steinman (and Celine for that matter) but as I've said before, there are a handful of good Celine Dion songs and this is another one of them. It was a huge song when Heidi and I were dating - I think it was a single right around the time we got engaged. We loved it as an album track (yes, we bought Falling Into You, but so did 35 million other people in the world so cut me some slack) but we figured it was too long for the radio at 7 minutes and some.

Never underestimate the power of the radio edit. Chop two and half minutes off the song and you have a breakaway pop hit, as Anya would say. At least they didn't cut the faux slamming door at the "and you were history with the slamming of the door" part. I remember liking this song so much that I purchased the CD maxi-single without having heard any of the remixes first, which turned out to be a big mistake. It didn't remix well at all, which kind of surprised me because some of the best club mixes are full of drama and angst which this song had in spades, but it did't translate well. The vocals felt sped up, the production frenetic, and one of them turned the already seeming interminable song into a 14 minute behemoth.

The funny thing is I think those remixes are in my iTunes, but I won't part with those just yet. Just don't expect them to show up on my "Shit I Never Listen To Because I Forgot I Had It" playlist.

Jim Steinman also wrote a song that Barbra Streisand recorded for her Emotion album in the mid-80s. Predictably, it is not short of drama either, but "Left In The Dark" was always a highlight of that album for me. Not surprisingly, you can sing "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" over the top of that song too. However, I never knew until just recently that it had a video.


We're all amateurs

I'm listening to Michael Chabon's new non-fiction collection Manhood for Amateurs on my iPod right now. My track record with audio books is spotty at best, but I usually finish them even though it almost always takes me longer than it would have had I just sat down and read the book. I was going to buy it but really, we're tightening all the belts around here these days so that wasn't going to happen. However, I did have credits from Audible so I picked it up there.

I am completely hooked. I posted this on Facebook, but it really should be required reading for all men - or at least for all men who are interested in learning a little bit about themselves and how they fit in with masculinity in general. Chabon, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, is an odd duck - he both fits and doesn't fit the typical male stereotype.

I'm sure that I'll do a proper review once I'm through with it, but so far, so very very good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Anticipation

I always think of Carly Simon when I think of anticipation - and it wasn't till just yesterday that I found out that song was about waiting for her first date with Cat Stevens. The song has always spoken right to the heart of me, despite the fact that the lyrics are a bit cliched and that it makes many people of my generation think of Heinz ketchup. I wrote a composition in high school about how anticipating Stevie Nicks' The Other Side of the Mirror was making me late - in that case, it made me late for school the day I bought it. I thought it was clever at the time. Looking back, it was kind of lame. I wish I could find it. If I could, I would probably post it, lameness and all.

I'm one of those people that is incredibly anticipatory, both for good things and for bad. Reflecting on anticipation is kind of a requirement for me, as I'm approximately 34 minutes from the end of my 5 day fall vacation (or mini-break as Bridget Jones might say) - invariably, I'm going to look back a little bit on it. In the weeks leading up to it, I was anticipating so many things - lunch with Matt & Bess, the podcast, the potential to get all sorts of stuff done around the house, and a nice anniversary weekend. Although none of those things listed disappointed in any way, the trouble is that in many instances, the actual execution of all the things I anticipate can never hope to live up to how much I have built them up in my head. When things fail to live up to what I have built them up to be, I have not only lost the present I spent anticipating them, but also the present that I'm currently in.

The converse is also true, only in that case, anticipation becomes anxiety which can be crippling at times but something that I'm learning to handle. There is no simpler thing for me to do than to start a loop in my head that feeds on itself, dragging me away from the here and now and into a future that likely won't ever be. I don't pretend for a minute that I'm unique in this situation, however, it's my damn life and of course, the experience I have with it will be unique to me. Additionally, I know of many people whose anxiety keeps them from even the fundamental activities of life, and certainly I am nowhere near that. But to say that it does not affect me at all is not only not being honest with the people around me, but it's a big fat lie to myself.

As I mentioned, the problem with anticipation is that while I am anticipating things, for better or for worse, I have a pronounced tendency to lose the only thing that I really have - the present. As Carly sings, "we can never know about the days to come/but we think about them anyway." I compound my trouble with ruminating over past events, which are things I REALLY don't have any control over, whereas with future events you can hope to exert at least a little influence on them. Getting whipped up into the emotional frenzy of anxiety is ultimately not very helpful because rarely does anything concrete and rational come out of it. When you are speaking from a purely emotional standpoint, logic pretty much goes out the window. It takes an amazing person to speak from both perspectives at the same time. I find that I pretty much have to jettison emotion if I want to be rational at all - the jettisoning of which, as many people know, does not come easy for me.

In the end, another line in Carly's song really cuts through the crap with all this anticipation stuff. "Stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days." In high school, I listened to those lines with a bit of sadness, kind of already chalking up the "good old days" to being 16 and angry, unnecessarily melancholy and really not all that good. In college, I heard that thought echoed in 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days" and felt similarly bad. But if adulthood has taught me anything, even in the face of my chronic anticipation, it's that THESE are the good old days. The present. It's what you have. It may be all I have because I might get creamed by a truck on my way to work.

It's all we've got. So I'm staying right here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's Vegas, baby!

No sooner has Heidi got one book sold and another submitted for consideration, she's prepping for another one that she's going to tackle during National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). And even though the actual writing of it doesn't start until November 1st, she's already knee deep in research. This one is set in Las Vegas, a town which we only blew through during our trip out west this summer, and deals specifically with the game of poker, which she knew literally nothing about other than it was played with cards.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to educate yourself on these kinds of things, and one of the ways she's been doing it is watching a shitload of movies set in Las Vegas. The tricky thing is that it has to be current Las Vegas, not the Vegas of the 50s or even the Vegas of the 70s. There was some VERY brief talk of taking a quick trip out there over our anniversary weekend, and obviously since we're just finishing up that weekend, we didn't do it. In hindsight, it was a very wise decision considering all that's happened with the car and some other behind-the-scenes stuff I won't get into here. But anyway, short of actually going to Vegas, watching movies set in Vegas is kind of the next best thing. So last night we watched The Cooler and Lucky You. Both were subpar overall but what we really enjoyed was the depiction of Las Vegas. Vegas is almost a character in the movie itself - especially in The Cooler.

Las Vegas is not a city that we ever thought we would want to visit, it was kind of an afterthought on our vacation this summer. The only reason we really went there was because we were looking for some place to stop between L.A. and Glenwood Springs, CO. Truthfully, we should have stopped somewhere in Utah, but it worked out as getting stuck in L.A. rush hour traffic made getting out of L.A. a 2+ hour endeavor on its own, causing us to pull into Vegas at 10pm. Seriously, the drive into Vegas on I-15 after dark, seeing the lights of the Strip in the distance - one of my favorite memories of the trip. I vividly remember that "I Love New York" was playing at that time and although it wasn't New York, it seemed appropriate driving music.

Heidi was pleasantly surprised by Las Vegas. She had never been sold on Vegas, fearing it to be a bigger version of Reno, a city she really hated. My folks have a time share in Vegas and keep trying to get us to go out for a week, and she has never wanted to. But after spending some time there - I think we were there for about 12 hours, which was just about the same amount of time Jeff and I were there for the Confessions Tour - she began to see the draw. And now that she's writing a book set there, well, let's just say that she really wants to get out there.

I have to say that I both understand and don't understand the draw of Vegas. In an attempt to replicate a Vegas experience this weekend, we headed down to Prairie Meadows casino in Altoona, IA, where we lost 20 bucks in under 5 minutes on the roulette wheel. I will admit to having fantasies of hitting it big and coming home with thousands of dollars, but I probably have as much likelihood of winning the lottery that I never play. Mostly because of the financial craziness that is such an omnipresent part of my life, that would be an easy way to fix that. But trust me, my mother's first child is no dummy and I realize the folly of thinking that. The house always wins. Always. And the only way out from under financial craziness is hard work and discipline, not hoping for a miracle that will never come.

But let me tell you, if Kylie sets up residency in Vegas as is rumored right now, I'll figure out a way to get there. Because, as Kylie says, it's Vegas baby!

Dessert dishes

Today is our twelfth wedding anniversary. As Janet Jackson might say, they said it wouldn't last, we had to prove them wrong, although no one ever actually said it wouldn't last except for Jeff who always good-naturedly teases us about how it's lasted longer than the six weeks he gave it. Regardless, here we are, twelve years later.

We're fond of telling the story of how we chose an October wedding date in the middle of the semester because we were really wanting a cool and crisp fall day for our wedding. We didn't get it - it was humid and in the 80s but nothing like a June or July wedding would have been. But it was still a good day, as you can tell.

Sometimes people ask me what the key to a successful marriage is like I'm some sort of expert on it. That's really not something that's easy to pin down. I will frequently respond (only half-jokingly) "It's because we know how to fight. And then we know how to move on." There's a lot of truth to that. I wonder about couples who say that they never fight. If you never fight, are you passionate about ANYTHING? Is there any intimacy whatsoever? It seems like so many people go to such great lengths in all their relationships to avoid fights, and yeah, it's probably smart not to actively seek them out, but as a friend of mine once said to me "there can be no intimacy without offense." There is so much truth in that statement - it applies easily to marriages, but also applies to close relationships of all sorts.

But if you REALLY want to know what the barometer for the health of our marriage is, I'll tell you straight-faced that it is dessert dishes.

We got a set of four glass dessert dishes as a gift for our wedding. Over the years, they have fallen victim to accidents or gravity or whatever and several of them have broken. Heidi and I have joked that when the last dessert dish breaks, it's over. We are down to the last one, and consequently, it has been treated with kid gloves for quite some time now.

So this year, for our anniversary, she got the best present we could possibly hope for: peace of mind.


That's right, four new dessert dishes. These are actually her mom's (Heidi remembers them from her childhood) and in acquiring these, I told her that she has purchased us at LEAST 12 more years.

But in all seriousness, the dessert dishes are indicative of something bigger. I will never, in a million years figure out how I got so lucky as to find the woman I married. She has stood by me through the worst versions of myself and been there with me through all the good times and bad. We have had many great times, weathered many storms and have produced another fantastic human being in the course of our relationship. She has helped me find the comfort in being who I am, warts and all, no questions, no apologies. I'm still working on the no apologies part, but as I am fond of saying, I'm a work in progress.

Happy anniversary, Heidi. And thanks for the dishes. I promise to keep washing them for at least as long as they're around.

(and if you want to read Heidi's companion piece to this, which I will freely admit made me tear up right here in my office chair while I listened to Janet Jackson's "Throb", go here.)

(As always, our anniversary coincides with National Coming Out Day which we find fitting considering our passionate support of LGBT rights. To all of our LGBT brothers and sisters, whether you've been out for decades or are taking those first tentative steps out of the closet, we salute you. Your bravery inspires people everywhere to be who they are with no apologies.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Podcast revealed

As promised, the podcast I participated in is up and ready for the download. You have one of two options should you choose to listen to it (and really, you should - we're brilliant.) You can go to the podcast web site (it's episode 31) and download from there. Alternatively, you can go to iTunes and get the podcast that way. Either way, do it.

I clearly need to be taught how to use a microphone, so go easy on me. If you have positive comments, I'd love to hear them. Please keep negative comments to yourself. My ego is, as Kylie would sing, made of glass.

And to anybody arriving at this blog via the Live Free or Blow Hard web site - welcome. Hope you like what you see. It was a blast being on the podcast and just want to say thanks to Matt and Lance for having me on.

Too many books

I decided to take some time on day 2 of my mini-vacation from work and spend some time just by myself. Anna's in school, Heidi's working on something - not sure exactly what since she's between manuscripts right now - but it was her idea for me to do this. As always, her ideas, especially when it comes to managing my mindset, are golden so I took her up on her idea. I went to my chiropractor appointment at 11 today and then afterward, I headed to Cafe Diem for a pumpkin spice latte. It was kind of a risky choice because I had a pumpkin spice latte from the Burgie's at work the other day and I kinda wished I hadn't. But I decided to see if Cafe Diem could do it better and damn, but they nailed it.

I took the coffee to go and headed for the library. That's where I am now - pimping free wireless, although the more I think about it, can you pimp something that's free? There's something oddly comforting about Ames' library. It's certainly nothing on the Iowa City Public Library, which was one of my most frequent haunts when I was in college at the University of Iowa. I remember many afternoons spent roaming the stacks and then sitting down in a chair to read one of their countless hardbound copies of "Tales From The Crypt" collections. I still remember the one (immortalized in the British movie The Vault of Horror) in which a guy goes to visit his sister to kill her off so that he can get her money, only to find out that not only is SHE a vampire, but the whole town's full of them! The story ends with him upside down and hist jugular vein being tapped in order to fill glasses for the vampires.

Anyway, I digress. Shortly before we left eastern Iowa for good, the library went through a massive remodel and now, it doesn't even resemble the place that I have so many college memories. (I'm also starting to think that having fond library memories is the height of nerdy.) In any event, even post remodeling and expansion, I can still find little pockets of the library that remind of the old building, and if I close my eyes, I can see it mapped out in front of me in perfect clarity.

The Ames Library is comforting, but in a different way. I am frequently very frustrated by it because it never seems to have what I want. There's been rumblings around town that the library is going to move to a site across from City Hall, which is good and bad. I'll be sad to see this one go and would have rather they just expanded the existing structure. They are also planning on building a structure bigger than Iowa City's and I kind of question the smarts of this because Ames' population is less than that of Iowa City and the circulation is fully one-third less than that of Iowa City. I would rather they spend the money on more books so that they have what I'm looking for more frequently.

I really shouldn't be complaining and really, I'm not. There are already so many more books in my life than I will ever be able to read. I'm about 1/3rd of the way through The Worst Hard Time, which is quite good but kind of a slow read. And while I was here, I said to myself, "oh, I'll just go look at the Anne Sexton biography." If you want to know why I want to read Anne Sexton's biography, it's because of this song. I said I wouldn't check it out. Famous last words - I'm leaving with it. We'll see if it's worthy. I love a good biography because it appeals to my desire to read about other people's lives which has nothing to do with me being a snoop. (this is where Heidi steps in and looks over her glasses while saying "whatever!")

So who knows if I'll finish either of these books. I did read Gang Leader For A Day in under a week, so there's hope for me yet.

Post-podcast update

Well, I made it through my first experience podcasting. I had a great time, the topic was one I could speak about half-way intelligently and I think I actually surprised both Matt and Lance with some of the things I mentioned. So that's a good thing. I'm worried that my relative lack of experience with recording and a microphone may have compromised the quality of the audio - specifically, I have this nagging feeling that I was either too loud or too soft, but I suppose there isn't much to be done about that now and we'll just await the final product which should be posted some time today.

I had fun and I would totally do it again, but it confirmed my suspicion that while podcasting was a thrilling chance at a performance, blogging really is my home and a natural outlet for my creative endeavors. I have a great deal of admiration for Matt and Lance who crank out an episode a week like clockwork. I don't know that I could keep that kind of schedule. Plus I really like the chance to go back and edit my words - a complete impossibility in the podcast format.

Watch this space for the link to the podcast when it is available for the download.

Lessons of Madonna

Sometimes I feel like all I do is reblog Madonna links from boyculture. I hope that if he ever sees me do this, he realizes that it is not because I am bereft of ideas and can only find material for blogging by mining his blog. Rather, I do it because the posts he does on Madonna truly interest me. He finds the most interesting and unexpected Madonna-related items on the web and posts them and I find them all fascinating, even when I don't agree with his opinions.

Today he posted a link to a post someone else wrote about Madonna. It is long but worth it, although I suspect that only Madonna fans will be able to persevere through the entire thing. This post was written by a gay man describing his "relationship" with Madonna. In many respects, he has the same kind of love/hate relationship that many fans have had with her throughout her career, although his certainly comes down more on the "hate" side of the equation. And part of his hate stems from the fact that since he is a gay man, he is "expected" to like Madonna. He relates the story of his coming to terms with his own sexuality and how it intertwines with his distaste for Madonna's music. He started out using the fact that liking Madonna was "gay" as a reason to deny his sexuality, and then, once he came to terms with being gay, he simply found her boring and derivative. He rather stubbornly refuses to compromise his principles and "give in" to liking Madonna, but also recognizes that trying to ignore her when you consume pop culture is nigh onto impossible.

This paragraph, while mostly talking about gay men and their relationship with Madonna, also really resonated with me.

People wonder what attracts gay men to her and the larger-than-life women of her ilk. I think some of it has to do with the fact that when you are gay, there are really no restrictions on taste -- you can enjoy the girliest of girly things because what are people going to do, call you a fag for liking something? They already have. But that's more circumstantial that specific. More to the point, I think gay men take an active interest in Madonna, because when whipped into her entertaining frenzy, she seems so free. While masculinity is so often defined by restraint (Sports have so many rules! Real men don't cry!), iconic women like Madonna are characterized by their lack of it. They're allowed to put it all out there, to be as emotional as they want (maybe they aren't always praised for it, but they don't receive questions about their womanhood or death threats as a result). For those of us who feel repressed in any way for being what we are, the Madonnas of the world offer a vicarious thrill, an exuberance in one's identity. It's something to aspire to.

The key line here is "feeling repressed in any way for being what we are." This speaks more broadly to the issue of masculinity in general and you don't have to be gay to understand this. You don't even have to particularly like Madonna (although that helps). While the paths of straight men and gay men are by definition different because of orientation and the expectations and preconceived notions placed on that by society, we are all still men and that is our common bond. I've put up with my fair share of shit because of misperception on the part of many in the past and I can say with great honesty that I have frequently felt a prisoner to the traditional definition of masculinity. Oh, sure there are many ways in which I am very typically male, but I would venture to say those are far fewer in number than the ways in which I am not typically male. One need look no further than my inability to play sports and my distaste for watching them. I am fond of saying that I don't care, but really I do. As Madonna herself said in Truth of Dare "even though it's not supposed to matter, it does matter what they think." You can't escape it.

I have said it before on this blog and will say it till I am blue in the face because I believe it so strongly - there is so much that we, as straight men, can learn from gay men. I don't like to group them all together because stereotyping of any group for any reason really defeats the purpose, but I think that if we have any hope of redefining masculinity, it will come from them. It certainly won't come from most straight men - I can't imagine that many even think about it much. But there are those of us that do, I even know a few personally. I actually really think that the issue really transcends orientation - we have so much to learn from EACH OTHER. I think about this a lot and I wonder how we will ever be able to help each other when we can't even talk to each other. Sometimes that makes me sad, other times it makes me angry, but mostly, I realize that it will probably not change much in my lifetime.

Blog posts like this push me to the edge of my comfort zone, and I often shy away from them. But sometimes, you just have to say something, and that guy's post on Madonna pushed it out of me. The path to the man I am has been a strange one - the mere fact that I can mention flesh eating zombies and Kylie in pretty much the same breath has me marked as intriguing to some and weird to others. Of that, I am actually quite proud. At least it is not boring.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Struts, pout, cut it out

Last night when I went to put the car in the garage, I noticed that it was making kind of a funny noise. I filed it away and said to myself that if I heard it again today I would take the car in. Well, we drove down to Des Moines today and I still heard it and since it was only 3:00 by the time we got back to Ames, Heidi took the car to Car-X while I went to pick Anna up from school in the truck. Then Anna and I went to pick Heidi up. They said that they would call us today with the diagnosis.

I am not a big car head and don't know exactly what all is wrong but basically, the bottom line is that the noise I heard is unrelated to an incidental finding that IS a big deal. Before we went on our trip this summer, the guys at Car-X told us that our struts were in need of eventual repair. It wasn't a dire situation - and it certainly didn't have to be done prior to the trip. They gave us an estimate that was around $700 parts and labor and figured I'd have it done early next year since, as I indicated, they didn't think it was something that needed to be done right away.

Well, apparently it needs to be done right fucking now. If we don't do it, it'll ruin our back tires.

So in addition to fixing the mystery noise in the front of the car, which runs around $170 parts/labor, tack on another $700 for the struts and you're looking at nearly a grand. But really, I shouldn't have expected anything less of this year. We have easily put $4,000 in general upkeep, repairs, etc. into this car this year, but believe me, it's still cheaper than a car payment and it's the first year that we've really had this kind of expense.

In an attempt to dull the sting of what is money sprouting wings and flying away, I've been trying to put the silver lining on all of this. At least we didn't drive the car to Chicago for Kylie, only to be finding ourselves doing this at a Car-X in Chicago. At least we investigated it today before we drove all over kingdom come this weekend. At least I am off work for a few days so that the logistics of car drop off and pick up didn't all fall to her. At least it wasn't 2000 dollars.

But it still sucks, especially moving into Christmas. But I'm also over it. Next please.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

You wanna see something REALLY scary?

I really didn't mean for a post about Samantha Fox to sit at the top of my blog for the better part of a week, but sadly, it did. What can I say? The week has gotten the better of me, BUT it is now over and I am on a 5 day break from work. I am very excited. Tomorrow, I'm headed down to Des Moines to meet up with my friends Matt and Bess for lunch at Proof which looks quite ritzy but Bess assures us they serve soda in cans. So no worries on that front, I guess. Heidi is going for a massage at the East Village Spa while I am at lunch.

And then, later that night, I am headed down to Matt's house for the recording of his weekly podcast Live Free of Blow Hard. He, along with his friend Lance, have been doing this since February and have 30 episodes under their belts. Their topics run the gamut and although I usually can't find 60 consecutive minutes to listen to their podcast, I have only missed a few. I admire their tenacity because podcasting is a much bigger commitment than blogging! They invited me to be on the podcast quite a while ago, but a combination of my work schedule, their recording schedule and the topic we chose has delayed that until now. Our topic is going to be (just in time for Halloween) "top 3 horror films and why?" although I'm sure that they'll title it much better than that. Anyway, it is sure to be a good one. I have been doing my homework so as not to look like a complete idiot.

Once the podcast is done and posted, I will post a link to it here so that those of you who choose to listen can do so. I would say, like Heidi did earlier this week, if you want to hear what I sound like, you should listen, but since I've done those few video blogs and a good chunk of you actually know me in real life, that's not much of an incentive. But if you like horror films, you probably won't want to miss it.

Also, Kylie is set to take the stage in Chicago in a mere 30 minutes and yet here I sit. DAMN YOU SALAZAR!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hot and cold emotions confusing my brain

When I woke up this morning, I had ideas of what I might get accomplished. I thought I might write a blog post that's been ramming around in me for a couple days. I thought I might watch a little bit more of some movies I'm trying to finish rewatching for an upcoming podcast appearance (more on that later this week.)

What I did not think I would be doing is downloading more Samantha Fox songs from eMusic than is really appropriate for anyone for anyone. Who knew she her stuff was even available on eMusic?

Nothing says "Dan's freshman year of high school" more than Samantha Fox's "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" Actually, that's not quite accurate - True Blue probably says it more - but it was a banner year for music and me. I have so many vivid memories attached to songs from the 1986-1987 school year than you can shake a stick at. It was the first year that I watched the Billboard Top Ten (via the weekly report in the Des Moines Register) with great interest. I also watched MTV pretty much constantly as I started listening to more than just Olivia Newton-John.

But back to Samantha Fox. What sold me on "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" was probably its Madonna-esque sound and well, the video (appealing to teen boys crazy on testosterone everywhere.)



I actually still have the 45rpm single of "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" and also the one for "Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)" but I wisely never bought an entire album of hers. Who really needs 10 Samantha Fox songs? Well, apparently the folks at eMusic because they have a 3-disc, 39 track collection of what appears to be a mish-mash of her studio albums under the name Touch Me. Believe me, if no one needed 10 Samantha Fox songs, absolutely no one needs 39. (look, it's on iTunes as well!)

That has not stopped me from downloading quite a few of those 39 songs though. I finally found the B-side to the "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" 45 ("Drop Me A Line") and also grabbed some of her minor hits. The thing that kills me about Samantha Fox's songs is how many of them have a parenthetical portion - there's the aforementioned "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" and "Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)". Then there's "I Surrender (To The Spirit of the Night)" and "(Do Ya Do Ya) Wanna Please Me?", as well as her cover of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".

Oddly missing from all this Sam Fox goodness is yet ANOTHER song with a parenthetical portion called "Hurt Me! Hurt Me! (But The Pants Stay On)" which I remember putting on a compilation CD one year collecting "songs least likely to be covered by a church choir." Instead, there is a 2009 remix of "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" which appears to be rerecorded and if you thought her vocals were manipulated in 1987, it's nothing compared to what 2009 technology can do.

So yeah, more Samantha Fox than I expected this morning. But I say that like it's a bad thing.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The day after the day after the Diva Equinox

So Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 was dubbed by Entertainment Weekly as the Diva Equinox because there were three new releases that day by, well, divas. Madonna released her 2-CD best-of collection, Celebration (which I think I might have mentioned a time or two here), Barbra Streisand released her SIXTY-THIRD album - that's nearly 1 a year for her entire life, folks - Love Is The Answer, and Mariah Carey released Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Well, two out of three ain't bad - I'm just not into Mariah and never really will be beyond a song here and there - it's okay that other people are, so back off Lambs! For me, she's an artist that just never really lived up to the potential of her debut, but that's a blog post all on its own.

The problem with the Diva Equinox falling when it did was it landed smack dab in the middle of a bad paycheck so I had already made my peace with the world and decided that I was going to put off Celebration until things looked a little bit better money-wise. I mentioned it to Heidi who was dumbstruck by my stubbornness and said "Come on! It's Madonna! You need to get it." I've been struggling with whether or not I wanted to purchase it right away because I have already paid for these songs at least once or twice before and I was having a hard time justifying paying for them again - or at least paying for them again RIGHT NOW when there are other things that need attention. Well, not surprisingly, I got home from work and she had gone to Target and bought that CD. I should have known that's what would happen. I've known this woman for 14 years and I didn't see that coming? What the hell was I thinking?

What's really funny is that despite all that, it's still in the packaging. I haven't opened it yet because I had mentioned to my friends Matt and Bess that I was holding off on the purchase of Celebration and it was kind of out of character for me (the last Madonna CD I didn't purchase the day of release was Erotica). Well, I got an email later in the day stating that in celebration of Diva Equinox, it was their long-standing tradition to "send good friends diva-ish CDs we know they will love." The end result is that they bought me a copy of Celebration as well! It's a good thing I didn't open the one from Target. It has not arrived yet but should in the next few days. It was one of those things that made you appreciate the way the universe works and realize that, as is so frequently said it is cliched, there's no such thing as a small act of kindness.

So hopefully it will be arriving in the next day or two - I will be eager to open the CD and look at the artwork. Allmusic said that it had the Herculean task of compiling 30 years worth of hits which immediately made me feel as old as dirt.

But one should not forget Streisand either. There is a song on her new album that will absolutely make my year end best-of list which is kind of amazing because honestly, the album is kind of the sonic equivalent of an Ambien. She does a good job with the songs, but I think the production is just too sleepy. I should have expected as much with Diana Krall producing because her last album was also in the same vein as this one. But the song that is amazing on there is "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" - a song Barbra sang on the tonight show 40-some years ago. The thing I can't get over about "SCRHYUTM" (wow, that abbreviation looks oddly suggestive) is that everybody and their pet rock has done a version of this song, but every version I've heard has different lyrics. The main body of the song is always the same, but there's an intro that is never the same - at least not in any of the versions I've heard. I'd be really interested to know more about that. But anyway, go to iTunes and listen to Barbra's new version before the music industry starts charging you for the privilege (yep, still miffed about that one.)

(I was going to do this as a video blog, but apparently, I lack even the most rudimentary video editing skills so it ended up being this. I desperately needed to edit out the last 5 seconds of the clip, but could not make iMovie do it. It's probably for the best anyway.)