Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dad and daughter

So last night, we were all lounging around in our bedroom and I had the laptop up there. As is usually the case when we have the laptop out, we ended up fiddling around in Photo Booth. Despite the fact that it takes pictures that are mirror images of reality, it is always a fun time. We rarely take anything that even remotely resembles serious - but every now and then, we get a good one. This one happens to be one of them. Notice my nice disheveled self post a long day at work. And someone has monkey pajamas (not me.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not the Dolly Lama

I am always so thrilled whenever someone feels like they should make a music video. These days, they seem like afterthoughts. Even Madonna, who is arguably the queen of the music video, seems to be going through the motions these days. Anyway, I came across this video for Dolly Parton's new-ish single "Better Get To Livin'" and naturally, I had to post it.

What I love most about this video (apart from its simple existence) is that for once, Dolly does not look like a department store mannequin. OK, she does when she's dressed up like the backwoods Barbie doll (Backwoods Barbie is actually the name of her upcoming CD - being released in February or something) but the top hat/whip/black and burgundy outfit she wears at the circus show is very regal looking! She actually looks her age, save the fact that she hasn't a single wrinkle on her 61 year old face!

I once read an article or interview that described Dolly as having been bitten by a vocal vampire or something - referring to the fact that her voice sounds so good this late in her life. It is pretty amazing when you think about it. How many 61 year olds do you want to hear sing? (wait a second, considering the music I listen to, perhaps I should rephrase the question!!) Anyway, I'm glad she's still around and is a big liberal despite the fact that she really wants success at country radio again. It can't be easy for her being such a gay icon AND an icon of country music which is not exactly well known for its left-leaning politics.

The prospect of a 2008 Dolly tour is the one thing that would make me rethink wanting to go see Madonna again next year. If I see Dolly live, I can cross one more person off my list of people I want to see live before I (or they) die. And of all the people left on that list, Dolly is one I really REALLY want to see live. But I'd prefer to see her in a smaller arena and not something like Wells Fargo Arena or Hilton Coliseum. How about the M-Shop?

However, if I'm going to cross Blossom Dearie off that list, I'd better get my sorry butt to New York soon.
UPDATE: Actual conversation Anna and I had while watching this video.

Anna: Dad, that's a lot of different Kylies.
Me: Anna, that's not Kylie!
Anna: Well, it's hard to tell because they kind of sound alike - and look alike.

Folks, you can't make this shit up!

What Heidi said

I have been struggling with whether or not I wanted to blog what's been going on with some friends of ours, mostly because it seems to violate the privacy of those involved even if I don't name names. I mean, it's one thing for me to violate my own privacy here, but another thing entirely to bring other people's things onto the blog. In any event, I think that ultimately they would not mind and that they would appreciate any positive thoughts, prayer, meditation, whatever.

As usual, Heidi said it so much better than I could ever hope to and it's wrapped in a great story of her own.

Cancer sucks. And even though it is trite from overuse, that certainly doesn't make it any less true.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday lessons

This has been quite a day, filled with crash courses in plumbing and lessons in gratitude. It was not how I expected to fill my Sunday - the one day of the weekend for which I had no concrete plans other than trying to recover from the work week and the state of Iowa driving tour that was yesterday, as well as get ready for the week ahead. The universe, apparently, had other things in mind.

The first lesson was to be a plumbing lesson. Any lesson in plumbing is likely to be a new one for me - that's how little I know. The kitchen sink clogged today - one of those situations where you run the garbage disposal and the water comes up on the other side of the double sink. Plunging got me nowhere, an ill-advised load of laundry brought the water level to the cusp of overflowing (followed by the bailing of the sink a la a sinking boat) and other general stressfulness. I am just not a handy guy around the house - I can do a few rudimentary things, and with plumbing, I'm pretty much stumped if the plunger doesn't work.

So my dad came over, and through a lot of trial and error, yours truly ended up running a plumber's snake through a drain pipe in the basement to clean out some nasty old clog made of God-only-knows-what. Oddly enough, I felt very proud of myself, because the whole thing was ultimately like solving a mystery. Where was the most likely place for the clog based on the water flow? How far down the drain pipe was it likely to be? etc. We made a big mess in the basement (thankfully, no sewage was involved as that would have just been nasty) but the problem was solved and I learned something along the way.

The second was a lesson in gratitude. It occured in the midst of all the plumbing drama. I was bound and determined to make it to church this week as we'd missed the last couple and ever since we've become Unitarian Universalists, I have actually been looking forward to church - something I haven't done in ages. Admittedly, I was not in the best frame of mind when I arrived, still seething a bit from a lost battle with the sink and aggravating trips to both Target and K-Mart. Nonetheless, I let the zen of the place wash over me a bit and really let it go. The theme of the service today was (predictably) thankfulness and gratitude. It seemed a bit cliched for the weekend after Thanksgiving but I went with it. The best part though, was what is probably best referred to as an "open mike" session in which people shared their own stories.

This is the thing I love most about UUs. Trying something like this in a Lutheran church would get everyone very interested in looking at the floor and waiting for the awkward moment to pass. At a UU church, it got everybody talking - including me, former Lutheran, relatively quiet introvert. I loved listening to the stories that people shared, whether they were happy or sad or somewhere in between. That's the thing about sharing stories - you never know when something you say that you think is mundane and every day is going to connect with someone else in just the right way. And that, for me, is the most amazing thing about interacting with other people. It's why I love reading personal blogs - I love the music blogs as much as anyone, but I always love it when someone throws a bit of the personal in there. It's how we connect with each other, sometimes superficially, sometimes on a deoxyribonucleic level as Alec Baldwin once said in an interview.

Sometimes I think I might share too much here on this blog, but ultimately, I don't give a shit. I mean, I do - but really, I just don't care. As I just got done telling Heidi re: something that was going on with her, you always have to remember: I am who I am, I am my own special creation - give me the hook or the ovation.

So that's what I learned in Sunday school today.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I drowned myself tonight in sangria

OK, I didn't really do that, but I am loving the song that lyric came from - it's from the Girlyman song "Viola." Their music reminds me of heading up to Prairie Moon Winery in the heat of July and drinking sangria underneath an umbrella while sitting on a blanket - and not just because of the mention of sangria. Their style of music is very much in the vein of the live music they generally have there.

In other goings-ons of interest:

I love the Chapin Sisters cover of Madonna's "Borderline." Taken from the forthcoming Madonna tribute CD, Through The Wilderness: A Tribute To Madonna, it is an understated version of what is perhaps my favorite of the really moldy oldies. As Yuri pointed out to me, it's like Wilson Phillips meets Alison Krauss. I may actually pick up this Madge tribute album - the others that I've heard (i.e. Virgin Voices) have pretty much been terrible.

Tomorrow may very well turn out to be my last shot at getting the gutters cleaned out. I may have no choice but to do it. I don't particularly want to spend my Sunday on the roof, considering I walk like I'm just learning to walk when I'm up there, but I think my hand is being forced. It really makes me want to invest in Gutter Topper, but that's two grand that I just don't have right now!

We put up our Christmas tree on Friday morning. I was a sport (even Heidi said so!) on Thursday night and hauled all the Christmas stuff up from the basement even though I had worked 11 hours that day. Pictures to follow, I'm certain.

I have listened to the new Goldfrapp and my initial reaction is, while there are a few good songs on there, I'm mostly underwhelmed. I think it might be because, really, the only Goldfrapp album that I really like Supernature, and this is decidedly NOT Supernature. I still can't believe the record leaked three months before it's scheduled to be released. It makes you wonder why they aren't releasing it sooner if it's already in the can.

I am getting very seriously excited for the Christmas episode of Doctor Who. Sure, it's a one-off designed to get us through till the new series starts in 2008, but still. It's David Tennant and Kylie Minogue! On the Titanic! What more could you ask for?

Speaking of Kylie, I've had a chance to listen to more of X. "Nu-di-ty" is so bad that I don't think Britney would even sink to that level. But the bonus tracks "Rippin' Up The Disco" and "Magnetic Electric" are both worthy of being on the album. But how "Nu-di-ty" made the album and the fan-fucking-tastic "Fall For You" is relegated to B-side status is beyond me.

We stopped at the Java House on our way back home tonight. I miss it so much. I don't know why - it's very much like our local coffee house, Cafe Diem - but for whatever reason, Cafe Diem is just not the same. I think it is largely because I have such strong associations with the Java House, and the fact that there is no coffee on earth as good as St. Louis Blues. Plus, now that it's the holiday season, Candy Cane coffee is back, even though Heidi thinks it tastes like cough syrup.

I think that's it. I'm off to bed.

Time traveling

I have eaten so much I feel like I could spontaneously lose consciousness at any moment.

We are back in Washington for the day (for Thanksgiving celebration deferred) and on the drive down here, we went through all these little towns that have completely fallen off my radar now that I don't live in this part of the state any longer. Sigourney, Keota, West Chester, What Cheer. They are all players in the line up - the back way to Washington. It doesn't bother me coming back here - not as much as it used to. As I have said before, it helps immensely to be able to come back here and NOT own property here as well as in Ames, so there's that. I remember all too well the trips down here before our house sold that in addition to being trips to see Heidi's mom, were also trips to go down and walk through our empty house and wonder why on God's green earth I couldn't get anyone to make an offer on it.

But still, every time I come back here, it feels like I have stepped out of the Tardis and into a time gone by. It always feels a bit like I dodged a bullet - like but for the grace of whatever God there might be in this universe go I had I not had the foresight to get the hell out when I did. There is something about small town Iowa that just wants to strangle the life out of anything different. Years ago, we really thought a small town was what we wanted - local color, relatively free of the soul-sucking conglomerates (except for Wal-Mart) that seem to homogenize the landscape of the country. Ultimately though, the small town culture was the soul-sucking part.

Where we "escaped" to (to be especially dramatic) is, at times, only marginally better, but I think that overall, it was a smart move. No, losing money on a house sale was not in the plan, nor was sitting on a house for 18 months while I paid double mortgages. Moving away from the small town did not magically fix everything, but what it did do was force me to realize how much there was also something I needed to fix in ME, and that it was not just a function of being the victim of a small town mentality.

And besides, being the victim is so goddamn boring anyway!

So it's been a day full of turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes (my personal favorite) and all the other Thanksgiving staples I missed on Thursday. There has been pie and Anna even tried cherry pie (it ended up being too tart for her, but kudos to her for stepping outside her comfort zone.) In a while, we'll begin the trek home. It'll be in the dark as we'll be most likely stopping by to see some friends prior to leaving, but it's all good. Even though I think I would have rather spent the day lazing about the house, this has been its own kind of good. And for that, I am thankful.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I gave in

I vowed I was not going to listen to Kylie's new record X until it was released, but that was always a bit of a dicey arrangement as it technically doesn't get a US release until well into 2008, despite the fact that it's being released in the UK on November 26th. I just got done telling someone last week that I was going to wait until at least then before downloading the tracks and giving them a listen.

I am here to report that I have failed miserably which really puts my ability to stand up to the Madonna leaks (once they start leaking) into question.

So far, what do I think? Well, I've only listened to a few tracks so far, but it does appear to me that while it is good pop fun, X is a more streamlined attempt at what Body Language was designed to do - and that is to break Kylie in America. I don't think that's going to happen. As much as I love songs like "Wow" and "Like A Drug" I just don't see them getting even the remotest of airplay here in the U.S. But, as I've said before, the U.S. is not the world, and I hope Kylie gets some good success with this record. It is pretty solid, and I especially like how there is only one track that exceeds the 4 minute mark - and only by 2 seconds at that! It is almost a throwback to vinyl 45s in that respect!!

Anyway, now that I have given in, I will likely be giving this a lot of spins on the old iPod (and I do mean old. Does anyone want to buy me one of those 160GB models for Christmas?) I'm sure I'll have a more well-formed opinion after a few more listens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Because it's been a while

I don't usually do memes, but I ran across this one and thought it more interesting than most. And since I may not get a chance to post tomorrow as I am working (booyouwhores! as Paul would say) and the day is AT LEAST a 10 hour shift, I thought I'd work into the Thanksgiving holiday with something lighthearted and fun.

1. What is the first music album you remember owning?

There are a lot of them, but this is the one that I really remember.

I had a boatload of those Sesame Street records as a kid - Bert's Blockbusters, Ernie's Hits, and Grover Sings The Blues, but Letters...And Numbers, Too! is one of the first records I ever remember having. I listened to them constantly, memorizing every word and playing them till the grooves wore out. I think I still have them around somewhere.

2. If not the same, what is the first music album you purchased for yourself? would be this one.

Long before Madonna (but not all that long), there was Olivia. My first celebrity crush, and the first non-kid record that I ever bought with my very own, hard earned money was Olivia's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. My Olivia fandom was well known in my elementary school, and how exactly I avoided getting beaten up on a daily basis is something that I still don't fully understand. In any event, she cranked out some fun pop songs in her day and some of the best of the best are on this album.

3. What artist currently occupies the most space either in terms of shelf space or megabytes on your hard drive?

I'm not currently at my main computer (rather am working on the laptop), but it is without a doubt, Madonna. I have probably over 1100 Madonna tracks on my computer - between live shows (including 5 different Blond Ambition Tours, 3 Confessions Tours, 3 Re-Invention Tours - all from various cities), fan made remixes, and demos and rare cuts, she definitely comes out on top there.

4. How many different types of music media (vinyl, cassette, CD, etc) have you owned in your lifetime?

I have purchased vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s. My parents owned tons of 8-tracks when I was growing up, but I don't believe that I ever actually purchased one of those.

5. Who or what has had the biggest effect on your music taste?

My mom and dad had a lot of influence on my early taste, and by the time I hit my teenage years, I was all about the radio and the Billboard charts. Once I got to college, and the music scene shifted from pop to something decidedly more foreign to me, I depended on music magazines and the fledgling internet for music recommendations. Nowadays, it's all about the internet, baby. Meeting a lot of other bloggers has really helped to expand my musical palate beyond what I would naturally gravitate toward. I'd say that without a doubt, people I have met through blogging have really steered my musical tastes in the last few years.

6. How do you currently prefer to listen to music?

By and large, it's on the computer and on the iPod. I do listen to a lot of music in the car (when I'm in there) and a lot of times I'll play CDs in there. But even then, I will frequently bring my iPod along because I am all about having control of the music. Music on my terms is a big thing for me.

7. In terms of music memorabilia, what is your most prized possession?

I don't have anything truly collectible - but I do like my "True Blue" limited edition 7" blue vinyl. Borderline Music in Chicago has tons of Madonna collectible stuff, but sadly, all of it is very pricey. And I suppose if you want to count it as "music memorabilia", I am also quite fond of the French version of the Sex book, although it was more the thrill of the chase because it rarely comes out of its mylar packaging.

8. Have you ever “swapped headsets” with a complete stranger (meaning have you ever unplugged the earphones from your listening device and plugged them into someone else’s player and had them do the same)? If yes, what did they play for you?

Um, no. Although once someone asked to borrow my iPod while they went on break at work and because I lacked a better reason than "I don't want you to see what's on my iPod" I said yes. I still felt like someone was asking to borrow my underwear.

9. Have you ever been completely obsessed with a particular artist? Who and to what level did your fandom go?

Who? Me? Are you kidding me or what? ;) Seriously though, I would have to say that my Madonna fandom has bordered on obsession, although it has waxed and waned through the years. When I first discovered the Madonna listserv, I became quite a regular contributor, but once I left school and got a job, my priorities changed a little bit and that kind of fandom seemed kind of silly. I feel like I have settled down some, but I still get beyond excited for new Madge.

10. What is the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

According to Google Maps, Las Vegas is further from Ames than Washington D.C., so the Confessions Tour wins. I did drive to Chicago completely solo to go see Casey Stratton perform in a coffee shop which I think should count for something,.

11. Who have you seen in concert the most?

Madge wins again with three different concerts, but only because I have not seen that many people more than once. The only other acts that I've seen more than once are Casey Stratton, Fleetwood Mac and Dixie Chicks.

Well, wasn't this fun? If you want to do it on your own blog, consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One night in Haddonfield

So last night I went out to see Rob Zombie's reimagining of the John Carpenter horror classic Halloween. It was at the dollar theater here in Ames and even though the name is a misnomer, it is still exceptionally cheap at $1.50. I went with my friend Matt who is fast becoming my horror-movie-watching buddy of choice as we both have wives who do not do the whole horror movie thing. He was great fun to see a movie with - especially one that had the potential to be as bad as this one.

Let me start by saying this: Halloween, like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator before it, was the beneficiary of exceedingly low expectations. I was pretty much expecting the movie to be awful, since it had only gotten a 25% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But surprisingly, it was very passable entertainment - certainly worth a buck and a half, but actually, worth more than that when you get right down to it.

In Rob Zombie's vision of Halloween, much more time is spent developing the back story behind the events that would take place in Haddonfield, Illinois. While some stories composed almost entirely of back story are not so good - i.e. the Star Wars prequels, Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince - I actually liked seeing the story behind the madman, so to speak. I loved the significance of the mask and how he came to be wearing the clothes that he was the night of his escape from the mental hospital and subsequent murderous rampage. The portrayal of Myers by Tyler Mane (who is 6'8") was very effective, even though the adult Myers never uttered a single word. His physical presence was impressive and menacing - just what the role needed. Zombie really made Michael Myers unredeemable save one moment toward the end of the film- as if he were remotely redeemable in the original run of movies - but it was almost as if he were evil incarnate.

So the back story took about half the movie's run time, which left approximately an hour to tell the story that we all know - of Laurie Strode and her horny high school friends, and the murder and mayhem that ensues on that Halloween night. I thought this part of the movie was strange - mostly because it kind of had a 70s feel to it, even though it was clearly set in the present day. I thought that the shots of the town were much better than in the original - mostly because they actually looked like Illinois, rather than southern California filling in for the Midwest. And most of the scenes defined "autumnal" which I suppose is appropriate, but I really liked that. I also thought the mood was set rather well considering the filmmakers had significantly less set up time, having spent all that time developing Michael Myers' back story.

The girl who played Laurie Strode (the role originated by Jamie Lee Curtis) was a cute, spunky, Sarah Michelle Gellar type who overall did a good job. I had one huge problem with her performance though - and I know that Matt had a similar complaint. Once Michael was on the rampage and chasing her through various set pieces, she simply would. not. stop. screaming. Ever. In the original Halloween, Laurie Strode is actually quite capable and does not degenerate into a screaming meemie. Not until Halloween II does Laurie become a scream queen. The Laurie in this movie is a screaming meemie times 100.

The movie also fell prey to the common horror movie trap where the end just went on entirely too long. You can only take so much of the killer chasing the girl and getting up after being shot with the "blow its head off" gun (as opposed to the "piss it off" model - a great line from the movie.) I would have preferred it to have a better ending than it did - a tidier one. There was a spot where it could have ended rather effectively, only to insert a Carrie-like "gotcha!" (which, admittedly, I fell for) and then went on for another 20 minutes.

So overall, this movie was a whole hell of a lot better than it had any right to be, especially when it was essentially a remake of a horror classic. It was MUCH gorier than the original, and I was pleased to see that it had a healthy respect for its source material - much like the recent "reimagining" of Dawn of the Dead did. Despite that it was familiar, it managed to deliver a couple of genuine scares which is a couple more than I thought I would get.

Lessons learned from Halloween: lower your expectations, and enjoy the ride. Oh, and teen sex ALWAYS ends in bloodshed. No matter what.

Definitely my daughter

While I was at Halloween last night (more on that later tonight), Heidi and Anna found themselves randomly surfing the web and, although I personally have no experience with randomly surfing the web *whistles*, I hear that those are the times you come across the most unexpected things.

Like this:Anna's exact words were, upon viewing Barbie as Cher, "Ah - I want that! But she doesn't look like she can stand up well."

Are you kidding? If it didn't seem to confirm every assumption ever made about me by people who do not know me well, I would buy that and put it on my shelf in my office. However, I draw the line at putting Barbie dolls up there with the zombies, Aliens and Scully and Mulder (among others.) Still, it is Cher. Wearing the famous slingshot.

Now, had it been Barbie as Madonna wearing the famous cone bras and the fabulous I Dream Of Jeannie Blond Ambition hair, I wouldn't even think twice.

(There's also this one, but, as Anna just informed me it is SOLD OUT!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Birthday bowling - redirect

It has taken me all goddamn day, but the report of Anna's birthday bowling party is FINALLY up on Heidi's blog. I wrote it for her while she is on her sabbatical/leave of absence/whatever you want to call it. And rather than reproducing it here, I will just direct you to her space.

Today has been this mishmash of getting weird stuff done around the house, odd errands run, being on the computer WAAAAAAY too much, and just generally being lazy while somehow managing to be at least semi-productive. And tomorrow I am heading out to the dollar theater to see Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween which has the potential to be bad but I still think it will be fun. I haven't been to a horror movie in the theater in ages!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In New Zealand, no one can hear you scream

While the other movies we have out from Netflix have been being exchanged rather quickly, I am sorry to admit that Netflix probably made money off of me as I finally got around to watching Black Sheep tonight after Anna passed out from the sheer exhaustion of her birthday party. More on that tomorrow, but for tonight, we're going to talk about psychotic, flesh-hungry New Zealand sheep. Oh, and did I mention were-sheep as well?

I think that my expectations for Black Sheep might have been a titch too high considering what it was that I was going to be watching. I mean, seriously, genetically altered, man eating sheep? In all honesty, though, it was slightly disappointing because it played both for scares AND laughs. I think that so rarely works. However, when it does work, i.e. Shaun of the Dead, it works very well. Unfortunately, the end result is usually something like Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child ("thumbs down! I've been more scared at a Disney movie!") I think Black Sheep probably fell somewhere in between those two extremes, but rest assured, it was more Dream Child than Shaun.

One thing I will say for Black Sheep, though. It decidedly did not skimp on the gore. There was one scene of mass carnage and gore that had even me, seasoned horror film veteran, turning away. It would have done even the best zombie movie proud with its portrayal of sheep eating living humans. Ultimately though, gore does not equal scary - it mostly equals gross. When combined with truly scary elements, it can accentuate the scariness, but I don't think that gore is capable of being scary on its own merits.

The other thing I will say for Black Sheep is that it was probably written by a guy who is completely in touch with his 12 year-old boy. There were sheep fart jokes. I'm even willing to forgive the attempt to combine horror and laughs to let something like that in. Grown men who have a healthy respect for the 12 year-old boy in all of us get a great deal of admiration from me!

So it's a recommendation from me, but keep your expectations low. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but what can you say? I'll be sticking to zombies, thankyouverymuch. Next up is probably going to be 28 Weeks Later.

Holy shit

I was poking around the Mary Chapin Carpenter web site this morning because I really haven't looked at it in quite a while, and I was reading an essay she wrote about touring - with an emphasis on touring in the summer. While I was reading this, I found out that last April, after finishing up an acoustic tour in support of The Calling, she ended up in the ER and was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism.

I remember learning about deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism when I was in school. The fact that sticks out for me is that whether you lived or died after getting a PE was as simple as the flip of a coin.

This disturbed me greatly. Fortunately, she is fine and will live to record again, but the mere thought that her music and songwriting could have been silenced so early and with such speed was, to say the least, upsetting.

It does not help that I am stuck in a huge MCC listening rut for reasons I can't quite work out. I get into her music every time the world quiets down and I get more internal. As I've said before, listening to her music is like talking with an old friend - for me anyway.

Glad you made it, Chapin. So on with the song.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The unexpected

I am racing through Love Is A Mix Tape much like I expected I would. It's funny, I knew I would like it, and I do, but reading it is such a bittersweet experience. I read it mostly with a great deal of sadness for Rob Sheffield, for what he experienced. No one so young should have to go through what he is writing about in his book. The way he frames the tragedy of his wife's death (not a spoiler as you get that in the first chapter) with music is amazing and a true joy to read. It reminds me of how I wish I could write like that - it seems like he just sat down and wrote the whole thing from start to finish in a day. Since I live with a writer, I know that's not true, but still! He and I don't share a lot of the same music in common, but he shares my passion for it.

And after reading a chapter of the book last night which focused primarily on Kurt Cobain, I am now impatiently waiting for the library to open so that I can go down there and get some Nirvana. My knowledge of Nirvana is so limited as, let's be honest, it is decidedly not my type of music. It pretty much begins and ends with "Smells Like Teen Spirit." When Nirvana was shiny and new (well, as shiny as grunge can get) I was still wallowing in the late 80s pop music holdovers. This disheveled young man yelling lyrics into a microphone was not going to tempt me in the slightest. But after listening to Sheffields' take on Kurt Cobain (beautifully written, I might add), I am ready to look at him in a new light.

I have no idea how my experimentation with Nirvana will go, but we'll see. I may get the CD from the library and have all my preconceived notions confirmed. But I figured, if I can be swayed by the written word to give it a bit more than just a passing glance, there might be more there than I figured.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A girl who is six

I am extremely tired tonight for reasons unexplained, but I simply could not let today go by without paying tribute to my favorite 6 year-old girl in the world. I would encourage you to head over to Heidi's blog for more photos of the birthday girl, but for my part, here's one that I think really captures her spirit and attitude.

Your dad loves you, kiddo - more than you can possibly know.

Cowbell Hero

Short but sweet (and hilarious)

(via my brother-in-law)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reflections on Confessions

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of two things near and dear to my heart. The first (and foremost) of these things is the 6th anniversary of the birth of my daughter aka Anna turns 6. I have been teasing her all week that I am so excited to be turning 6 (it is in my job description, after all.) Anna replied to this the other day by saying "Dad! You're not 6, you're 44!" Um, not for another 9 years, kid. Don't age me any faster than we both are already. She is going to be having a bowling party this weekend (she got the idea after going to a bowling birthday part earlier this year) and I will no doubt be blogging that. For those wanting a trip down memory lane, I'll refer you to Anna's birthday post from last year.

So because I will be blogging the party, I am going to take this opportunity to reflect a bit on the other thing near and dear to me that has a birthday tomorrow. That's right, Confessions on a Dance Floor turns 2 years old tomorrow! I can hardly believe it's been two years. I don't think that the CD has been out of the car for more than a few days in that entire two years. I am amazed at how well it has held up. It sounds as fresh today as it did the day it was released, and in many ways, it is better now than it was then.

I honestly think it is the most cohesive of all of Madonna's albums - certainly of her latter day albums, but perhaps of all of her albums. Madonna's albums are notorious for their filler, but I daresay that there is just not that much filler to be had on COADF. From the beginning tick tocks of the clock behind "Time goes slowly" on "Hung Up" to the acoustic guitar at the end of "Like It Or Not" there is not a single song that I skip past when I am listening to the album from start to finish. In this day and age, where the art of the album really has gone by the wayside, that is a remarkable feat indeed.

The leak of "Hung Up" was probably one of the most exciting recent Madonna moments. As someone wrote back around that time, it achieved the impossible by making ABBA's "Gimme Gimme Gimme" even gayer than it already was (and that was meant completely and utterly as a compliment.) That sample has, for me, really become more strongly associated with Madonna than with ABBA. You know that you've succeeded in using a sample when that happens. When I get my new cell phone, I am going to figure out how to download the "Hung Up" ring tone that uses the "Ring ring ring goes the telephone" line. Totally cheesy, but yet, very appropriate for me.

"Hung Up" was not the massive hit that I thought it would be, but, let's face it, Madonna really is past her prime when it comes to charting. She will never be the charting machine that she was in the 80s. And really, that's okay. It went top 10, which is more than anything from American Life did, but really, it should have done so much better.

I did not listen to any of the other songs prior to the album release (oh, except for "Sorry" because I just couldn't resist!) - probably not something I could do now with the blogging community I have where the leaks seem to come faster than I can keep up. I remember reading some reviews prior to the album's release, and most of them were positive. One of the few negative reviews I remember said that the album was so wooden and thump-thump-thump repetitive it should have been called Confessions OF a Dance Floor. Clever, and admittedly I was worried. I shouldn't have been.

The first 8 songs is a string of songs that are as strong as anything she's ever done. Even "I Love New York" which I originally did not like much because I found it to be very beneath Madonna, grew on me, perhaps because it was one of Anna's favorite songs on the record. I don't know that I will ever forgive the "I don't like cities but I like New York/Other places make me feel like a dork" line, but it is Madonna who has never been known for her stellar songwriting abilities. The standouts tracks for me are definitely "Sorry" - a classic kiss off in a minor key to boot, and "Future Lovers" which is, simply put, the best opening to any Madonna tour ever. I just can't imagine Madonna topping her entrance from INSIDE a disco ball. And, of course, there is "Jump" from which the tagline of this blog was culled and the underlying message of which has become a recurring theme on many posts that I have done over the past couple of years. Not every song jumped right out at me. "Let It Will Be" took a bit of getting used to, as did "Push." But now, they all blend seamlessly together for me, a great album from beginning to end.

A lot of the credit for the success of COADF must go to Stuart Price, who really was a muse for Madonna on this record. If nothing else, he really knew how to push the buttons and twist the knobs in the studio to get a high quality product. A certain percentage of fans fault Price for lifeless production and miss Madonna's ballads, to that I say pish-posh (well, not really those exact words, but you know what I mean) because the record is fucking fantastic. There's plenty of time for ballads, let's get out on the dance floor. And Madonna provided a perfect record for booty shaking.

So happy birthday, COADF. Your are one of my favorite pop albums of all time. Not since early in her career has Madonna been so effortless in crafting pop songs while also making you think every so often along the way.

And if you're not a long time reader, you might have missed these posts that are Confessions-related:
First impressions on "Hung Up"
Thoughts on "Sorry"
Confessions Tour is announced
My trip to Vegas to see the Confessions Tour
My Confessions Tour loot
The Confessions Tour plays on NBC
The Confessions Tour DVD is released

Like a Wurgen?

As is pretty usual for this time of the year, I am starting to feel a bit of the pull of the shortening days and lack of sunlight. I have not quite hit the point where I am leaving for work in the dark and arriving home from work in the dark, but that is just around the corner.

So anyway, as I am wont to do when that kind of thing rears its ugly head, I am taking refuge in the music. You never know what I'm going to pick out of the archives at times like these, but somehow or another, this time around it is The Girlie Show. And exactly how that happened, I will never know. It is certainly not my favorite Madonna show, in fact, I frequently forget about it when thinking of Madonna tours. The fact that it stopped in exactly 5 North American cities does not help its cause, but as we all know, America is not the world, and fans in other countries should have an equal opportunity to see her.

I have particularly latched on to "Like A Virgin" from the Girlie Show because it was so out of left field (although not as out of left field as the inclusion of "I'm Going Bananas" - WTF?) This version of "Like A Virgin" is also referred to as "Like A Wurgen" as Madonna sings the entire song in German accented English in the style of Marlene Dietrich. It divides the fans and leaves little room for mixed feelings. You either love it or you hate it. I do love it - although I have always thought that it went on for entirely too long. Her vocals are also not the greatest, but as I frequently say, anyone going to a Madonna show expecting pitch perfect vocals is going for the wrong reasons. The "wo-oh-oh-oh-oh" part is especially painful - talk about 300 pound robin notes as my jr. high/high school music teacher would say. Many fans simply can't stand it and count it as among the worst things she has ever done. Ouch!

For me, it reminds me of why I admire Madonna in the first place - she is (almost) always completely unexpected.

So I will carry this with me today even though it is still dark out and will be nearly dark when I come home.

"Like A Wurgen" (get it while it's hot! - it won't last long)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Book transitions and the art of mixes

At long last, I have finally finished Pyramids. It was a long run, due mostly to my inability to sit down and actually pick up the book. However, I did feel like the belt fell off the pulley about 2/3rds of the way through the book, but in the end, everything pulled together quite nicely. And there were walking dead. Mummies, of course, but walking dead nonetheless. So it was certainly not at all bad. Pratchett is really an acquired taste - but I do love it whenever Death shows up and speaks in his ALL CAPS voice.

Having finished Pyramids, I picked up the next book in the to-be-read pile which is Love Is A Mix Tape. I confess - I started reading it before I finished Pyramids, but I was good and did not take it up in earnest until I finished the other book. Had I done that, I stood a very good chance of never finishing Pyramids, as LIAMT is very good and right up my alley. I knew that when I read the first part of the first chapter, I would be very intrigued by it and that it would get its own blog post, but quite honestly, I didn't expect to be doing it so soon. So perhaps this is the preamble to what is to come.

This book is basically one man's commentary on his life, focusing primarily on the brief time he spent with his wife prior to her sudden death, framing it all with mix tapes either they made or he made earlier in his life. He writes so fabulously about music that it is a true joy to read, although I do find myself at times laughing out loud and then, minutes later, swallowing the lump in my throat. So it's a good thing - it's getting to me. And I've only just started it.

I made mix tapes constantly when I was in high school and college - I perfected my own art of the mix tape probably around 1992 and made tapes like that up until the advent of recordable CDs. I remember being so meticulous about the order of songs, the choice of songs, making tapes with themes. Some of my favorite tapes that I made were "essential" artist collections - culling what I considered to be the best of an artist and condensing them into 90 minutes. Nothing takes me back to my college years quite like the "essential Mary Chapin Carpenter" tape that I made and listened to until it wore out. Some of those tapes I have converted into CDs, but the trouble was that you always had to cut something to make a 90 minute tape fit onto a 74 minute CD. So a bit of the integrity is lost when doing that.

Of course, iTunes playlists have allowed me to preserve the whole play order of those that I still have around. My mix tapes of old are increasingly rare as I am prone to sudden purges of shit in my life. What has really happened is that a lot of the CDs I made prior to the arrival of iPods have been turned into iTunes playlists and almost invariably have been expanded because there is no time limit.

I do love making mixes for people - it's like giving a little piece of myself to someone else. And since I take my music so seriously, I put a lot of time and energy into it. A lot of times, I put stuff on there that they end up not liking - and that's fine. To each their own - I am never offended when people don't like something I give them unless they're just plain mean about it in which case I get cranky. Don't like my music? Fine, no trouble. Just don't be mean about it. The flip side of this I know how much the music I love means to me - and surely someone else's music that they love probably means that much to them, and whether I like it or not is really beside the point.

So as I have said so many times before (and as Madge said before me) - music does make the people come together. It has been the tie that binds with a lot of my friends - certainly with many of the blogging buddies I have. But it trickles into the so-called real world as well. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday recap

It is unseasonably warm and humid for November 11th. The humidity has caused my hair to curl and that has made me less than pleased. Additionally, apropos of nothing, my beard trimmer is also on its last legs which has made me rather unhappy.

We drove over to Cedar Rapids today to pick up Anna who had spent the weekend at Camp Grandma. She had a great time and surprisingly enough, she was not displeased to see us, even though our arrival meant that her time with her grandma was at an end. We met at Heidi's grandparents' house and indulged in her grandmother's cooking which is truly the original comfort food. Heidi got a chance to see her brother and one of her sisters, as well as one of her cousins who is now going to the U of I. Anna soaked up the attention.

After lunch, I slipped into a food induced coma (as did my brother-in-law) which was much needed as I've been operating on far too little sleep these days.

We stopped at Toys R Us on the way home so Anna could give us some ideas for things she might want for Christmas. She saw her beloved 250 dollar pony that you can brush and feed a carrot too while it responds to your interaction. She became visibly teary when she saw that someone else was getting one and I heard her make a wish upon the first star she saw that said pony would end up on the front porch tomorrow. It's enough to break this dad's heart!

Anna was in her pajamas within a few minutes of getting home - I read her book to her (Dorrie & The Goblin) and she didn't even make it to the end of the book. That's what a weekend at Camp Grandma will do to you, I guess.

So now it's a little after 9 and it's nearly time for bed as the weekend is, yet again, at an end. Sunday night melancholy has not really descended on me this week, but I am not ready for another week. There are so many things to do this week. I am still fighting off the remnants of the plague that I had after we got back from Arizona. While I feel pretty good, I haven't been able to shake the cough. Because I am a pharmacist and not a doctor, I have just enough diagnostic ability to be dangerous AND concoct the worst case scenario. For my chronic cough, I have thought of tuberculosis, pertussis, MRSA pneumonia, and lung cancer - never once stopping to think about bronchitis until someone at work mentioned it. Oddly enough, when I finally went back to the doctor on Friday afternoon, he put me on Biaxin to treat what is probably a bronchitis, but also covers pertussis just in case. While my cough has diminished quite a bit, it is not gone by any stretch and I am just hoping that at the end of 10 days of antibiotics, it'll be a thing of the past as I am decidedly tired of not feeling 100%.

So I am off to bed - as Neil Gaiman said on his blog this last week - "Sleep beckons. Also waves. Also makes threatening gestures and hops up and down until I notice."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Keep on trucking

I had great lunch and conversation today with a new-ish friend. We have been trying to get together for quite a while now, and one thing or another kept coming up and prevented it from happening. But it finally worked out and we talked politics and music and church and music and life stories and did I mention music? So anyway, that was fun. He didn't know the way to the place where we were going to have lunch, so I offered to drive. It was at this point that he said something that catalyzed this blog post - a post has been forming for quite some time. It just needed the blog-equivalent of the Gringard reagent to get it going.

He said something along the lines of "I didn't picture you as a pickup truck type of guy." (or something like that anyway.)

The truth is - I'm not. When I think pickups, I think big burly guys that are out hunting or dry-walling or something like that. Let me tell you how I am NOT that kind of guy in the slightest. But when my dad offered to sell my his pickup (because he was getting a Jeep and seriously, you don't need three cars in a house where there are only two licensed drivers) I jumped at the chance, although at first I wasn't sure how I would pay for it. No worries - my dad charged me 2 dollars for it. He had sold both my brother and my sister a car while they were in school for 1 dollar each. He told me that he had to double the price because I was not in school but, rather, was a working stiff. Fortunately, I was able to swing that.

I drove a pickup when I was in high school - a little green Ford Courier. I drove that because, honestly, it was a choice between that, my parents' conversion van or Ford Fairmont station wagon. My dad always says that he had me drive that truck so girls didn't date me for my car. He was successful - girls did not date me for my car. But I became pretty closely associated with that green pickup, people always knew it was me when they saw it. And it was pretty fun to drive - a little stick shift that was pretty forgiving. It had nothing but an AM/FM radio but that was back when the radio was good, so no worries there.

Driving a pickup now seems a bit like I am trying to be someone I am not - but really, that's not the case at all. As you might expect, I am taking the fact that I drive a pickup now and turning the popular conception of who should be driving a pickup on its ear. I remember one Saturday night not all that long ago I was going to go down to Cafe Diem and sit with a cup of coffee and just enjoy some "Dan time" and I found myself driving the truck down Main Street in Ames while playing Erasure. I felt a bit like John in Heidi's story (for those who have read it, you'll know what I'm talking about.) It seemed so incongruous. Here is this decidedly NON pick-up truck music coming out of a pick-up truck. It was at that point that I just laughed because really, what else would you expect from me? I just love listening to my cheesy pop music in a pick-up. It is yet another way to do the unexpected - something I probably don't do nearly enough of. Plus I love ditching male stereotypes just on principle sometimes.

So if you hear Confessions on a Dance Floor coming from a pick-up truck, you can probably bet it is me. This is my truck - complete with its HRC sticker on the back window.

I do like it - it comes in SO handy. And surprisingly, I haven't had all that many requests to help people haul stuff. I love owning a pick-up for so many reasons, but not the least of which is because I drive it and don't fit the stereotype.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Kid artwork

We are heavy into the kid artwork phase around our house these days - I am usually presented with a picture at least once a day. I took one to work (which I wish I had scanned prior to doing that) which consists of a traced dog with rainbow colored specks all over it. There is also a green stump in front of the dog. When I asked Anna to tell me what all that was, she said that the rainbow colored specks are "rainbow fleas" and the green stump was broccoli. So we have a flea-infested, broccoli-regarding traced dog. Brilliant!!

However, this is the artwork that came my way last night. It is very much in the vein of the zombie bookmark.

I had a little trouble figuring out just what it was - I knew by the "SKARE" that it was supposed to be something scary, but I was still at a loss as to the specifics. So I asked her. And apparently the guy on the left is a zombie. As to the identity of that strange shape on the right, she said - "oh, that's one of those really black scary guys that you have on your shelf." And by that, she meant this:

I love it! Especially with the little hearts on the side and the "I love you Dad, Anna." on there.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On feng shui of mattresses

I headed upstairs tonight while Anna took her bath to lay on the bed with a Corona and a book until it was time for her to go to bed. I got upstairs, and not only was the bed not made, I also recalled a conversation that Heidi and I had last night after we'd already gotten into bed that we really needed to turn the mattress. I need to preface this by stating that Heidi is kind of like the princess in "The Princess & The Pea" in that she is amazingly particular about the firmness vs. the softness of the mattress, and can usually tell long before I can if something is amiss with the frame. Anyway, since I remembered that we were going to turn the mattress, I put down my beer and started at it.

It's not actually all that difficult - it is mostly a matter of rotation. It helps to have a second person, but it can be accomplished on your own. I got the mattress turned when I noticed that the frame, as we had suspected, was indeed screwed up. It was at that point that we thought that we'd just take the mattress and box springs OFF the frame and set the whole shooting match on the floor. That way - nothing can go under the bed, which is INCREDIBLY bad feng shui. I couldn't believe the things we cleaned out from under the bed - water bottles, books, socks, shoes, an old work schedule of mine, and some broken glass from a glass of water a cat knocked over a while back.

The bed is now a lot shorter, but it is firmer. Truth be told, our bed has not been the same since we moved it. When we moved in 2004, I think the mattress was broken somehow. We bought a new mattress a couple years ago with some money from a tax refund, but for whatever reason, it has just never been the same. Like I said, it does not bother me nearly to the extent that it bothers Heidi, but still!

So, we improved the feng shui of the whole room, plus I found my little pocket Ganesh that I purchased at a weird little shop in Lakeview the last time I was in Chicago. I thought he had been lost for good! I have been missing that little remover of obstacles.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Never gonna survive

I have managed to have a listen to (thanks to the power of the internet) the new Seal CD, System, in its entirety. I am a bit of a fair-weather Seal fan, as I pretty much only know the singles that he's released but have never delved into an album of his headlong. Listening to the new record is causing me to rethink my position on that. Surely the library must have it for sampling.

In any event, System is quite a good record on the first few listens. I'm sure the fact that it is produced by Confessions on a Dance Floor producer Stuart Price is no small factor in how much I am liking it. The first single, "Amazing" is only okay, but the song that jumped off the album and grabbed me was "The Right Life" which, as Yuri so ably pointed out, is like a long lost cousin to Madge's "Get Together" from COADF. But since "Get Together" is really one of the most perfect songs on that album, why break the formula, right?

Of course, listening to all this Seal has made me think of his very first single - "Crazy." As XO pointed out, it is a perfect pop single that was so utterly different from everything else at the time it was released. It was everywhere in 1991 - you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing it - and this was when grunge was really starting to catch on, so that was no small miracle. But I think, when push comes to shove, I would put Alanis Morissette's cover of "Crazy" right up there with the original. Even though it does sound a bit like celebrity karaoke, it transcends most covers almost solely because it's Alanis doing an almost note-for-note remake of a song I didn't think she would be all that interested in.

That is, until you listen to the lyrics.

"But we're never gonna survive...unless...we get a little crazy."

I remember listening to Alanis' version of this song with Heidi on a road trip we took somewhere - I think our trip to Chicago earlier this summer - and the simple truth of that lyric really hit us. Sometimes, we just have to get a little crazy and take risks and step outside the box and if we want to survive. I think the human condition craves this, and sometimes, we do a really good job of talking ourselves into just accepting the status quo and not allowing ourselves craziness. I think it hit so close to home because that whole trip to Chicago - our real first trip by ourselves since Anna was born - seemed so crazy in and of itself. The concert, the dancing to Blondie and Erasure at a goth bar where I was hit on by a gay guy - it was all so separate from my life here, it WAS crazy. It was fun. It was the stuff that talks to you. It's when you really know that you're alive.

Who knew you could get this much from Seal and Alanis? And what an unlikely duo for a blog post.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

My new BFF

In an attempt to counter my Ethel Merman post, behold what I do believe is the most wonderful invention ever.

This is the Craftsman leaf blower/vacuum model 74284. And it is my new best friend.

I am not a guy that gets excited by power tools. Not even in the slightest, but damn, if this thing is not doing a bang up job of helping me rid my yard of the MASSIVE amounts of leaves that have fallen so far this year. The sad thing is that they aren't even close to coming down, although the big old 100 year-old oak in the front yard has pretty much shed everything, so that will help immensely.

Last year, my dad brought his leaf blower over to help me tackle the yard. I didn't even know where to start when it came to clearing out the leaves. So I used the leaf blower to get the leaves out of corners and into piles and it was like "where have you been my whole life?" It was an amazing piece of equipment. I must admit that I was hesitant to use it for fear of being a hypocrite as I used to always silently mock my neighbor where we used to live for using his leaf blower.

Anyway, because I was so excited about it, I was not in the least bit surprised to receive my own leaf blower for Christmas last year from my mom and dad. Come to think of it, I probably could have used it on Christmas Day last year as there was likely no snow on the ground whatsoever and it was probably in the 40s. In any event, I put it away and kind of forgot about it until autumn rolled around.

It was with a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth that I realized I was going to have to tackle the leaves this year. I got out the leaf blower and to my great surprise and delight, I found out it was also a leaf vacuum. A few rounds with the vacuum and I knew that I was in heaven. It helped clear leaves out of places I couldn't reach with a rake and as you vacuum them up, they get chopped up into little pieces which then go into a cloth bag attached to the leaf vac. That bag, in turn, is emptied into garbage bags and voila - your yard is cleared of leaves.

It is not perfect - sticks keep getting sucked up into the vacuum. And although my father has assured me that it is designed to handle small sticks, I have this nagging feeling that my leaf blower will last only one season because of the sticks that inadvertently get sucked up into the vacuum. But so far so good.

So that's part of what I've been doing lately - every night after work I come home and do a little bit. We've been lucky that the weather's been nice and it hasn't rained or - God forbid - snowed.

And oddly enough, I get a huge amount of satisfaction out of clearing up those leaves - a feeling that I decidedly do not get from mowing. So perhaps there is hope for me as a yard working kind of guy after all.

What will the market bear?

I was eating lunch today and flipping through The Advocate (which we started subscribing to when Heidi started writing Smalltown Boy, but now, we will be subscribers for life) when I came across the most curious thing.

Apparently, there is enough demand out there for not just one, but TWO Ethel Merman biographies, being released within the same month. I find this incredibly hard to believe! Certainly, she's not the first person to be subjected to more than one biography, but two life stories within four weeks of each other? Seriously, how different can these two books be?

A little investigation led to the discovery that 2008 is Merman's birth centennial. So perhaps that's the rationale. In any event, I still find it strange. But not as strange (or as disturbing) as this:

And I thought I had seen everything. Now I think I have.