Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Be kind to my mistakes

2008 is several hours from being ancient history. It's been a hell of a ride. I have had more ups and downs this year than in any year in recent memory. This is neither good nor bad - rather, it just is. It's been a year full of new faces and old ones reentering my life. It's been concerts and road trips and Guitar Hero and all the other things that made 2008 what it was. It was 275 blog posts (including this one), reaching my 5th year of blogging and my 1000th post within a few weeks of each other. We lost some people this year who shuffled off this mortal coil - my last grandparent, Jeff's mom, and we lost other people due to the continental drift that seems to pervade most relationships.

Robbie over at Chart Rigger did a 2008 highlights post - I have a few of my own as well.
And those are just the highlights. I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions - mostly they just set you up to fail. But if there's any one thing I want to do in 2009 is to take Kate Bush's advice and be kind to my mistakes. I am perhaps my own worst critic and do not always treat myself very well - at least not with the same sort of kindness that I save for everyone else. But this year, I'm getting some of that if it kills me.

I can't remember a time that was more uncertain than right now. But if we all are just a little bit more forgiving of each and other and be kind to each other's mistakes - as Ike & Tina Turner said, I think it's gonna work out fine.

Happy 2009 everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scully & Mulder workin' 9 to 5

This is the Dan equivalent of "your chocolate is in my peanut butter!" What a fantastic amalgam of two of my very favorite things. Totally worth watching.

(Confidential to my female sibling: Duchovny must have had creative control here as well as he is shirtless within the opening minute!)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


We have had a crazy few days that culminated last night in taking Heidi to the ER. Long story short, she will be fine but I have not one single regret that we took her in last night. She is 100% more herself today than she has been since well, probably last weekend!

So one more day of work and then I work Tuesday and Friday this week and that's it! I was listening to Stevie Nicks' "If I Were You" (which really should have made my Top 12 Stevie songs post I did earlier this year) and it reminded me of this photo, which is one of my all time favorite Stevie photos.

I used to have a poster of this, but it was trashed after moving so many times in college.

(photo via The Nicksfix)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Best. Wife. Ever.

Would you look at this? Ask, and I received.

(I am also pretty sure my hair has never been longer. And I love it.)

And as if that were not enough, she got me something for Christmas that 1) I didn't know I wanted and 2) I didn't even know existed!

It's the Region 2 DVD of the KylieX 2008 World Tour! We watched the lion's share of it this afternoon and say what you will about Kylie, she knows how to put on a show. It is so detailed and intricate that it is nearly in league with a Madonna show. Too bad she will probably never tour the States (talk about a show I would travel ANYWHERE in the continental US to see), and if she did, she wouldn't be able to fill an arena bigger than C.Y. Stephens save in the most metropolitan areas. Not exactly the best place for a spectacle such as what is contained on that DVD.

Here's one of my faves - "LoveBoat" - even incorporating some of the theme from "The Love Boat." When Kylie emerges after the lengthy intro, Anna says, "Dad, she has Dolly Parton hair!" WTF?

A really great Christmas around our house. I hope everyone else had a good one! I also wanted to take a moment to stop and thank everyone who stops by this blog and reads my words. And I want to especially thank everyone who arrives here looking for a picture of Mbwun. That is by far my most popular post thanks to a Google Image Search.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Like a marriage

Last night I was out and about doing some last minute shopping for stuff for Christmas stockings, photocopying the Christmas letter and getting a few other odds and ends. It was a night in which not only was it helpful to get your zen on, it was essential. Everyone and their brother was out last night, trying to score bargains, etc. an d parking at most places was at a premium. But rather than be irritated with it, I just went with the flow. You really had no other choice that didn't result in spontaneous human combustion.

Anyway, during this whole thing, I was listening to Madonna (I know, shocking.) While I was in the car, it was Hard Candy. While I was walking around the stores, it was American Life. And it was during this time period that I figured out the biggest problem with Hard Candy (and yes, I know this blog has been filled with musings on why Hard Candy ultimately disappointed. Deal.) Hard Candy is kind of like the one night stand that is all titillating and naughty and seems like a good idea at the time. Only after it's all over do you discover that all you have left is a bad taste in your mouth and an STD. American Life, on the other hand, is the marriage. It is moody and joyful and emotional and sometimes makes you want to run screaming from the room because it drives you so fucking crazy. But it's the real deal, it's the one that makes you feel alive. It's the authentic one, the one worth your time and energy. Years later, it still resonates.

Give me American Life any day of the week.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas warble

It's time for a Christmas set from one of my guiltiest of all guilty pleasures.

Everyone has to get into the Christmas act, and while surfing around the other day, I came across yet ANOTHER Anne Murray Christmas album. Turns out this is her 7th holiday collection, and actually, it's a bit of a cheat. Fifteen tracks, but ten of them are collected from her previous six Christmas albums. That leaves five new tracks.

This proves to be a tactical error for Anne Murray. While she has always had a fantastic voice, and the voice that sings these new songs is unmistakeably Anne Murray, the new songs suffer the same fate as a lot of those duets on her Duets: Friends & Legends. While good, you can tell that Anne Murray does not have quite the vocal chops she had in the past. This is certainly not her fault, but when you listen to her newly recorded version of "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and then compare it to "Winter Wonderland" which has been around forever, you can't help but feel like you're listening to your grandmother sing "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." Again, that is not Anne's fault - it's just what happens to your voice as it ages. You become a bit of a warbler.

But Anne is such a class act, we'll forgive her for that. We'll even forgive her the frosted hair and the gradual morph into Katherine Chancellor from The Young & The Restless.

I'm fond of saying that nothing says Christmas like Kenny & Dolly. I'd be willing to add Anne Murray to that definitive Christmas list.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best of 2008: Songs of the year

A lot of year end song lists are starting to trickle in across the blogosphere, and here is mine. My tradition has been (for the last couple of years anyway) to do 80 minutes of the best music of the year. This year, I am not able to do that. So you'll have to settle for 16 songs, 66 minutes. The thing about this list that is the most interesting to me is that it is 50% male artists/50% female artists. That is NOT something I would have expected. As usual, in no particular order.

Dan's Favorite Songs of 2008

1) Dolly Parton / Backwoods Barbie
A solid country song that is, oddly enough, also a Broadway show tune from 9 to 5: The Musical. Written about Doralee, it could just as easily be about Dolly herself. This is the first song of hers in a while that is worthy company to classics like "Coat of Many Colors" and "Jolene." She hit this one out of the park.

2) Goldfrapp / A&E
I am not really into The Seventh Tree and Goldfrapp I can really take of leave (I know. Blasphemy.) But for some reason this song became part of the soundtrack of the year, even though I didn't really realize that it was doing so. I have really nothing more to say about this song than what has already been said much better in other places.

3) Janet Jackson / Rock With U
"Rock With U" sounds like classic Janet - as if it were a refugee from Rhythm Nation or even Janet. She swipes the title from one of her brother's hits and it becomes my favorite Janet Jackson song since "All For You."

4) Shelby Lynne / Just A Little Lovin'
From Shelby Lynne's album of Dusty Springfield covers, it is perhaps the most soft-spoken song on this list. For me, the definitive version of this song is not Dusty Springfield's, but rather Streisand's from the Stoney End album (which I have discussed ad nauseum on this blog) but Shelby Lynne's version is more than capable. The entire album really is top notch - a good winter album, if you know what I mean.

5) Peter Bradley Adams / The Longer I Run
One half of eastmountainsouth, Peter Bradley Adams is very much like a male Alison Krauss to me - some great songs are in there, but a little bit goes a long way. This song is one of the best. Another great autumnal song that I played the hell out of as the year drew to a close.

6) Madonna / Devil Wouldn't Recognize You
Easily the best song on Hard Candy, it was the good stuff that floated to the top of the album almost instantly for me. Just look at how effortless the juxtaposition of Madonna and Justin Timberlake is in this song, especially compared to how he was shoehorned into "4 Minutes" (or was it Madonna that was seemed forced into that song?) Many called it Hard Candy's "Cry Me A River" - but certainly there are worse things. It was also a highlight of the Sticky & Sweet Tour. I can't wait for the DVD so that we can see that as it was meant to be seen once again - the YouTube videos don't do it justice.

7) Coldplay / Viva La Vida
I resisted Coldplay, but I was won over by "Viva La Vida." Even Heidi was! And neither of us ever even saw the Apple commercial in which it was featured. I never thought Coldplay would be in the best-of list of any year, but I guess this just goes to show that there is no telling what will happen.

8) Casey Stratton / Congratulations
Casey released no fewer than six collections of songs this year (two full length albums, two collections of B-sides, a collection of songs from his podcast and an EP) and on them, there were many good songs released. I also felt like there was a lot of filler. However, of the songs that stood out this year, "Congratulations" narrowly beat "You Wanted Out" for a place on this list. The song perfectly encapsulates the direction I so desperately want Casey to go with his music - emotionally open and vulnerable lyrics disguised with a pop sensibility that belies the serious nature of the lyrics.

9) Will Young / Let It Go
With "Let It Go," Will Young recorded the perfect sensitive guy song. It is neither creepy nor maudlin, but rather it is real and reflects a lot of things that many men think but either don't admit or don't allow themselves to feel. Probably my favorite song by a male artist all year.

10) Madonna / Miles Away

The second of two Madonna songs on this list - it is the most classic Madonna sounding song on Hard Candy. It also gave us the year's best remix (A Crowd Electric's version) which was unceremoniously yanked due to Warner having a hissy fit over it's release (even though they released the damn a cappella - what did they expect?) Bittersweet arpeggios and an earworm of a chorus - it would have been a number one hit in 1991.

11) Sam Sparro / Black & Gold
What I love about the Sam Sparro record is that it's a the kind of record that Prince used to make before he became insufferable. I think he will probably be a bit of a one-hit wonder, but it's a pretty good song to have as your only hit.

12) Donna Summer / Stamp Your Feet
This was almost the song of the summer, that's how much I liked it. What I loved most about this song is that it was recorded at all. It would have been so easy for the 60-year-old Summer to comeback as a female Rod Stewart and start doing songs from The Great American Songbook. Instead, it was a solid dance album and this song was probably the best one on there. I just wish the video were even half as good as the song! (I could have done a better job and they spent the entire budget of the video on the camera lens to make Donna Summer look 35.)

13) The Killers / Joy Ride
Another group that I have been resisting, I have really ended up liking Day & Age quite a bit (I was moved to buy it when it was $3.99 on Amazon MP3 a while back.) I'm sure the presence of Stuart Price as a producer had absolutely nothing to do with it. I wasn't a big fan of "Human" but "Joy Ride" is a standout track for me. The intro reminds me of Konk's "Love Attack" from the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack. I am still not super moved to seek out other Killers material, but this one will do nicely.

14) Darren Hayes / Dress You Up
I swear that Darren Hayes did this in his sleep, but the result was fantastic! A cover of the 80s Madonna classic which was available on Darren's myspace for a limited time, it is both an homage to the original and also injects a bit of Hayes' own sensibilities. What I love most about it is that it incorporates most of the ad libs from The Virgin Tour performance of the song. My favorite cover of the year.

15) Scott Simons / Start of Something
This was my favorite song of the fall. It was in such heavy rotation. It appealed to my own tendency toward introspection and was also catchy as all get out. He has a bit of a Michael W. Smith vibe to him that could potentially become grating, but overall, I think he is an exciting new voice. His cover of "Umbrella" was also something that I discovered this year, but not released this year and was, therefore, not eligible for this list. But you should check out both of these.

16) Ladyhawke / My Delirium
If you take the best parts of Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar and throw in a dash of Deborah Harry, I think you might have something that approximates Ladyhawke. We have not seen the likes of someone like her in a damn long time. One of the last songs on this list to be discovered, it was a pleasant way to round out the year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There goes Santa Claus

It had to happen eventually.

Some stupid kid at Anna's school has sowed the first seeds of Santa doubt. My child is SEVEN. Maybe I'm just being a protective parent, but I think that is way too early to even be thinking about there being no Santa.

I simply can't remember when I found out there was no Santa. Growing up, my belief in Santa was unshakable, even when a girl in my class (I forget the year) came out and said in plain English that Santa was my mom and dad. End of story. A part of me didn't want to believe she was right, even though I had long been wondering why my folks put us all in the car for a good 20 minutes prior to leaving for Christmas at my grandmother's house and why Santa's handwriting was the same as my mom's. I firmly believe that part of me that didn't want to give up believing in Santa is the same part of me that wants to believe that Barack Obama now knows the truth about Roswell and UFOs and all that stuff. I really am Fox Mulder. I want to believe.

I am not so naive as to think that Anna will always believe in Santa. While I am a bit wistful about her growing up, I am not going to stand in the way of it happening. In response to her friend's revelations about the true nature of Santa, I asked her what she thought about it. We talked about The Polar Express and how the narrator of that story could hear the magic jingle bell his entire life, even after his friends and siblings could no longer hear it, because he still believed. I think it's important now to lay the groundwork for the revealing the myth of Santa, while at the same time, not turning it into a big deal. We'll see how that goes.

In the end, there's more to it than a man in a red suit anyway. But I will admit, her belief is pretty amazing. I would think that in this day and age, it would be so hard to believe in Santa. And once the polar ice caps melt, I figure it will be virtually impossible to believe the Santa myth.

Best of 2008: In spite of myself

A quick one-off post as I have been busy and working and shoveling snow that does not want to stop falling. Seriously, snow or sleet or ice in the forecast EVERY DAY for the next 5 days. Welcome to Iowa.

My best of song-list is in the coming - it is not the 80 minutes that I usually like to do and topped out at 16 songs. However, there are a couple of songs that did not make the list that I listened to a ton this year. I am also quite embarrassed to admit to liking these songs. Quality-wise, they are not the best, but there is a large gap between how good these songs actually are from an artistic standpoint and how much I love the hell out of them. So they get their own post.

Candy Shop - Madonna
Fuck it. I love this song. I hated this song when it leaked about 9 months prior to Hard Candy's release. I found it to be so far beneath Madonna that it was practically subterranean. But just before Hard Candy leaked, I found myself listening to "Candy Shop" more and more. I don't know what it is about this song that I love, because really, it is an embarrassment for Madonna. She is capable of so much more! But sometimes going back to the lowest common denominator can make one feel oh-so-good while feeling oh-so-trashy. Despite my initial reservations, it was the perfect opener for the Sticky & Sweet Tour. While emerging on the M throne is no coming out of a disco ball, the "Candy Shop" entrance really is iconic Madonna. And Madonna really seems to enjoy the song, and so do I. As another diva said, it's not right, but it's okay.

I'm That Chick - Mariah Carey
Hell must have frozen over (along with everything else) because E=MC2 is the first Mariah Carey album since the debut that I have not hated right out of the box. Mariah lovers, leave me alone! To each their own. OK, I kind of liked Emotions, but anything post 1993 has not really been appealing to me in any way or form. But when you get right down to it, I probably like E=MC2 and Hard Candy about equally. I can still live without the random rappers and vocal acrobatics that Mariah seems to employ, but both were in much shorter supply than in previous outings. "I'm That Chick" is probably my favorite song from the record. It is probably the most politically incorrect song (seriously, someone got in trouble at work for using the word "chick") on the album, but it has a groove that I cannot get out of my head. Between that and "I'll Be Loving You Long Time" (a song with an inadvertent politically incorrect association) it's the best Mariah has done in quite a while. Which, considering my track record with Mariah is not saying much, but I'm just saying.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cookies galore

Heidi has been trying to bake Christmas cookies every day for the last week, but between me on the overnight shift and then the plague from hellTM, it just has not worked out. Today it did. And what a good day to stay the hell inside because it was 48 degrees when we woke up and by mid afternoon, it was in the teens. Now, it is 7 degrees.

Anyway, round one of the cookie baking extravanga commenced today. She made monster cookies and gingerbread men. Actually, she made the monster cookies and the dough for the gingerbread men. The actual cutting out of the men (and women) fell to Anna and me.

This one is my favorite - it is my vogue-ing gingerbread man.

I will not rest till I figure out how to put a cone-bra on him. Then he'll be straight out of the "Like A Virgin" performance on Blond Ambition.

It's big, it's heavy, it's wood

I have not thought of Log in forever. But tonight, I did.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Seven words

I'm buying a fucking Mac next time.

Best of 2008: Time warp

(I'm doing a full system restore on my PC and trying desperately not to watch its every move, so this is what I'm doing instead.)

The year is nearly over, and it's time to start looking back at the year that was. Part of the reason I blog is because I just feel so passionately about music (although a music blogger I decidedly am not! Too many stories about Anna and zombies and such.) I consume it in ways that many people really don't understand, and the year-end recaps are some of my favorite posts to write. No one else but me may give a shit about my opinions, but that will not stop me from giving them!

2008 was not the best year for music - it certainly had nothing on 2007. Last year I did a post on my favorite albums of the year that were not released in that year. It was so much fun to write and a great way to highlight the music that made up the soundtrack of the year, even though some of it was not released in 2008. So here we go - the list last year was 5 albums. This year, the list is down to four.

Mary Chapin Carpenter - The Calling
This album was actually released in 2007 and if I had bothered to do a year-end album list last year, it would have made the list. Honestly, it probably would have topped the list. It is simply that good. In fact, it is so good, I am almost willing to go on record as saying it's my favorite album of 2007 AND 2008 put together. It has been in particularly heavy rotation as the year has come to a close. The thing that I love about it is how it is simultaneously a throwback to Chapin's mid-90s peak-of-popularity stuff and a bold look forward. Having been a fan of hers for 15 years now, I am fond of saying that I have grown along with her, although she nearly lost me in the late 90s with a couple of very sub-par albums. And The Calling is perhaps the most mature, most fully realized version of her gift of songwriting and storytelling. Although I'm not sure how "On With The Song" will play in the post-Bush era, it is still the best example of a scathing political indictment wrapped in a killer country-pop hook. This is without a doubt an album I'll keep coming back to. (stream the album here.)

October Project - October Project
My biggest regret about my discovery of October Project this year was that it came during the hot summer months and not during the crisp autumn months. But as it turns out, I heard "Bury My Lovely" sometime in late June/early July and it led me to search out their debut album on iTunes. A few song samples later, I had purchased the entire album. See!? Sharing does lead to purchases! Anyway, this album is so solid and Mary Fahl's voice so soaring that I just can't get enough of it. As I mused back when I first wrote about October Project, this album was released in 1993 and how well it would have fit in with my 21 year old self back then. The most pleasant surprise of the year. (stream the album here.)

Vanessa Daou - Zipless
It shouldn't work - an album full of songs using the erotic poetry of Erica Jong - but somehow or another, it does! This album is kind of the opposite of October Project in that you can feel the humidity dripping off of it. In many ways, this album is very Erotica-ish, and not just because it was released in the same general time period. The use of spoken word vocals seems to predominate and there is a tinkling piano reminiscent of "Secret Garden." How can one resist songs such as "The Long Tunnel of Wanting You," "Becoming A Nun," and my candidate for least subtle double entendre (after Madonna's "Candy Shop") "Near The Black Forest." Zipless is not an album I pulled out every day of the year, but it was always there in a pinch. (stream the album here.)

Joni Mitchell - Court & Spark
2008 will be the year that I truly discovered Joni Mitchell. She always existed on my periphery, but this summer, I was sent the song "Stay In Touch" from the latter-day Joni Mitchell album Taming The Tiger. The song was just perfect at that particular point in my life, and it encouraged me to seek out more of Joni's work. There is a plethora of it, and really, the starting point for everyone should be Court & Spark. It is pure poetry, from start to finish. It has songs that everyone knows ("Free Man In Paris" and "Help Me") but even the lesser known songs are worthwhile. One of my personal favorites is "People's Parties" which to me describes the introvert's experience at most parties. As I've said before, people with songwriting ability, especially the kind of songwriting ability Joni Mitchell has, just amaze me. And this is one amazing album that everyone should hear. (alas, it is not streamable anywhere!)

That's it folks. Next time will be the stuff that was actually released this year.

Tattoo you

I just had one of those moments where I vividly remember a dream from last night that I had pretty much forgotten about all day long. I dreamt last night that I was getting a tattoo, and I was incredibly nervous about it. I had my arm out and whoever was doing the tattoo started in, even though I tried to jerk my arm away. I remember being nervous that it was going to hurt, but it didn't for some reason. I also remember it being just one little spot on my forearm that was being worked on.

When they were done, I had this elaborate tattoo all over my inner forearm and all the way up to my shoulder. What's even better is the entire upper arm was white, but the bottom was reindeer in a line all around my forearm, connected with little reins. I remember being just shocked at what the person doing the tattoo had done, and how I would never be able to wear short sleeves to work ever again.

I looked up what dreaming of tattooing means, and I found a variety of interpretations. They range from the what you'd expect (dreaming that you have tattoos represents individuality and a desire to stand out; wanting to be unique and different from everyone else) to the depressing (you are the object of a stranger's jealousy, someone from you past is hunting you, a difficulty will result in a long and tedious absence from your home.)

Mostly, I just think it's my slightly sick and still recovering from working overnights subconscious on overdrive. But as Fox Mulder says, "Dreams are the answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask."

But don't worry, no real tattoos in my future. I'm too much of a wimp.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Confessions on a Piano

A while back, I did a post about a fan remix of Madonna's "Get Together" which was nothing more than someone playing the song on the piano. This led me to postulate that someone must have the sheet music to Confessions On A Dance Floor, which made me wish I had the sheet music to Confessions on a Dance Floor.

Well, it was supposed to be a Christmas present to me (one that I was going to get early anyway), but today Anna gave me...the sheet music for Confessions on a Dance Floor! Apparently, time was going by so slowly for her, and she just was peeing her pants waiting to give it to me.

Every single song from the album is in there, and of course we started with "Hung Up." I was looking at it and trying to play it and having a bit of a difficult time. The straight forward piano solo of a song never sounds like the record, obviously. It's lacking the drums and the vocals and well, everything else. But once I figured out that trickly 16th note triplet was a part of the ABBA sample, well, from then on, it was a breeze. Our goal is for me to get the accompaniment part down so that by the time we have our big old Christmas get together on the 20th, Anna can play the "time goes slowly" part.

A big reason for her interest in giving me this particular present is that she has just started taking piano lessons. She is amazing me with her ability so far, and that's not just parental pride. She started at the beginning of November and I am very impressed with her ability to hear rhythm and notes and her determination to see it through to the end. She is on her way to being able to read music pretty well (most of the stuff she's playing is not actually on a staff but rather notes with the names on them.) She is making her papa proud.

But what made me prouder than her perseverence at her piano lesson was her response tonight as I was randomly singing "Get Together." To my "do you believe I can make you feel better" she responded with "too much confusion, come on over here."

Stop the insanity paternity tests!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your call cannot be completed as dialed

A week or so ago, I was having serious spyware issues on my computer. I am usually hypervigilant about that sort of thing, never really downloading much of anything of a suspicious nature and certainly not falling for those stupid "you look great in this secret video" type thing. Despite all this, in what I have determined to be a post-stroke moment, I fell for the stupid Koobface Facebook virus right after I got my computer cleaned up, which led me to have to debug the whole computer AGAIN. Surely the universe is trying to get my attention.

Things are pretty much back to normal, except for one little thing. No matter what I do, I am completely and utterly unable to connect to the iTunes store. This is the message I get about 5 seconds after I try to connect to the store. It happens every time I try to connect.

I have uninstalled and reinstalled iTunes multiple times. I have checked the iTunes forums. There have been issues with iTunes 8, but most of the posts are from September when iTunes 8 launched. It isn't a Norton Antivirus issue either as I made sure that iTunes was listed as an "allowed" program. Nor is it a Windows Firewall issue - iTunes is "allowed" there as well. The store is accessible from the MacBook and I have not heard of Heidi having trouble from her iMac so it appears to be specific to me. I am not really sure what to do next. I wish I had a bit more technical knowledge than I do! Much like my medical diagnostic ability, I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Normally, this would not really bother me all that much as I am pretty much a complete convert to Amazon MP3. However, my inability to connect to the iTunes store has rendered the "Get Album Artwork" function (upon which I rely heavily) worthless. And that, folks, is pissing me off.

If any computer geeks (a term I use with humility and love) are out there reading this, and have an idea, I'd be more than happy to hear it!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

History repeats

When I was a kid, my dad would come home from work every afternoon (he taught high school) and as he got changed out of his work clothes and into his being-at-home clothes, he would always stack a few 45s on the record player and let them drop down one by one. This is kind of an odd memory for me because my dad was not really the one that I associate musical memories with - it was, after all, my mom that introduced me to the Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits 8-track. But I do remember my dad doing this, and one song that I remember being played a lot was the 1968 country hit "Skip A Rope." (stream)

I never really listened to the lyrics to "Skip A Rope" back then, but boy are they cryptic!

Daddy hates mommy, mommy hates dad
Last night you should have heard the fight they had
Gave little sister another bad dream
She woke us all up with a terrible scream.

And this is even worse!

Forget about the rule, just play to win
And hate your neighbor for the shade of his skin.

Now, the song was certainly not celebrating these sentiments, but it's odd that it took me so long to actually hear the song for what it was.

In any event, I was getting ready for work tonight (one more overnight, then hopefully NONE in 2009) and I found myself listening to "Skip A Rope." All that would have been necessary to complete the circle is if Anna had come in to listen while I was getting ready.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The cheapening of my profession

There are so many people in this world for whom the perfect career path is elusive. I'm not talking about individual jobs along the way, but rather, the broader, more encompassing career that those jobs help to make up. In my life, I've had regrets along the way (welcome to the human race, Dan!) but I am happy to say that becoming a pharmacist is not one of them. Whenever I get into conversations with people and the "what if" scenario of "would you choose the same career path if you had it all to do over again?" comes up, I don't even have to think twice. Even with all the debt it has saddled me with, even though my path to being a Pharm.D. was not the most direct in the world, I don't think I'd change it. Part of that is I believe that you don't mess with the path that your life has taken, for you never know what's going to get screwed up if you go back and mess with it. The other part of it is I am absolutely fucking fantastic at what I do. That is not meant to be immodest or full of myself, but being a pharmacist fits in well with a lot of my personality quirks. I cannot imagine being anything other than a hospital pharmacist, even though many days it is very trying and I come home tired. It's the job I'm meant to do (note: it's not all that I am meant to accomplish in my life, but it's the paying job I am meant to have. I am SO NOT one of those people defined completely by their job.)

So, when I read things like this, I feel very badly. A chain drugstore in California is now offering a "19 Minute Promise" - that is, if your (up to) 3 new prescriptions are not filled in 19 minutes or less, you get a $10 gift card and a free RedBox movie rental. I had heard rumblings of this at work, but someone had misattributed the program to Walgreens so I couldn't find anything about it. Then, U.S. Pharmacist arrived in the mail yesterday and the editor's page was devoted to it. The editor correctly compared this latest scheme as an attempt to equate drugs and prescriptions with pizza and DVD rentals. It is another move driven by the bottom line while paying no attention to the fact that pharmacists are highly trained health care professionals and the products they handle are not mere commodities like toothpaste or tube socks.

In addition to endangering the lives of people who get prescriptions filled, this kind of mindset cheapens the profession beyond where it had already let itself be cheapened. It started with drive-up windows in pharmacies and has just been in a downward spiral ever since. Drive-up pharmacies, while convenient for patients (especially parents of young children) diminish the amount of face-to-face time that the pharmacist has when counseling patients on their new meds. It is, in my mind, adding an element of "would you like to SuperSize your penicillin?" to something that is very serious! The upcoming addition of a drive through was one of (but not the only) reasons I took my first hospital job rather than stay on at the pharmacy where I was already employed part time.

The hardest part of this is the great big disconnect that exists in the education of pharmacists and the actual working conditions that are out there. Pharmacy education has changed a lot in the last 10 years, but the emphasis on the clinical aspects of the job have multiplied. When I graduated with my B.S., we did exactly a semester's worth of rotations. Now, Pharm.D. students do a whole year's worth. What comes out of pharmacy school are highly trained people that are aching to put their clinical skills to work. 90%+ of them end up in retail settings like Walgreens or Wal-Mart and the difference between the ivory tower and the real world becomes abundantly clear. I have my own opinions as to exactly what the place for clinical pharmacists are in the health care system and how that is kind of at odds with how students are being educated, but that's a whole other post!

I always say that there's no way I could work retail. I don't mean that with any disrespect to those hard-working pharmacists out there at the Walgreens and K-Marts and Targets because we need them to be doing the job they are doing - and I certainly am not the person to be doing that job. It's true, it would take a lot for me to be able to do it. A big part of the reason is I have been away from it so long that I would have to be re-educated in a serious way. Hospital pharmacy is it's own animal. I don't know how much things cost and things that you see only in community pharmacy are more and more foreign to me since I deal primarily with inpatients. I keep myself as current as I can with CEs and make sure that I do some that are not directly applicable to my line of work just so that I can keep up with the rapidly changing world of retail pharmacy.

I do know for a fact that if someone came to me and said that they were invoking a 19 minute rule and I worked for them, I would immediately commence a search for a new job. I care more about doing a thorough and accurate job than a fast one, although there is a balance between them. Successful pharmacists know where it is.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Consolation prize

Last night when I was having my nightly bowl of cereal, this little wonder was at the top of the Raisin Bran box.

It plays three little tinny guitar tunes that really rock out when you hit the whammy bar. What it does not do is replicate the Guitar Hero experience.

It got me to thinking...perhaps that will be the Guitar Hero that some kids get this year! Kind of like the kids who got these instead of fancy Atari 2600s when I was a kid.

Truth be told, that port of Donkey Kong was probably on par with the Atari 2600 port, so maybe the kids that were recipients of the Donkey Kong tabletop were ultimately the winners!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Take a car out to Heathrow

I was talking with a friend this morning about how we're kind of done with the whole Hard Candy project. Really, the only thing I am waiting for right now is the DVD of the Sticky & Sweet Tour (which is set to be filmed at the upcoming Buenos Aires shows.) My disappointment with the album as a whole was diminished by the tour, but I still feel like it is a half-assed effort that she could not even bother to promote. I am hoping that she disappears for a while to get her act back together and come back with something brilliant. As it is right now, she is descending into what appears to be a mid-life crisis with the whole A-Rod and plastic surgery thing. Come on, Madonna. Act your age!

I know that she is capable of brilliance, but it looks like we'll be waiting a while for that to reappear.

In the meantime, I am absolutely in love with A Crowd Electric's remix/mash-up of "Miles Away." From what I have gathered, they were so disappointed with the remixes that were officially commissioned that they did their own which I think is better than all the official ones put together (and most of the Hard Candy remixes in general.) Rather than turn it into a dance floor anthem or something that it is not, they were much more subtle about it. It almost plays like a mid-to-late 90s production with the spoken word interludes and smooth and cool beat which is not all that different from the original. Honestly, this is my favorite Madonna remix since the extended remix of "Jump" in 2006. I used to be all over remixes, especially Madonna remixes, but since they became a dime a dozen on the internet, give me the album version any day of the week over some shitty fan remix or 12 minute monster that barely uses her vocals.

You used to be able to download the remix from A Crowd Electric's web site, but apparently Warner had a coniption fit so it has been taken down. You can't even stream it on their MySpace page. Luckily, I grabbed it before it got taken down.

Meanwhile, here's Madonna meeting people in Argentina (photo via Madonnalicious.) She looks good, but those cheeks are just too much.

Le bleutch

This Christmas, we decided that our big present to ourselves would be one of those Roku boxes that allows you to stream Netflix movies directly to your TV. For an investement of a hundred bucks (as well as the monthly subscription to Netflix), movies and other entertainment can be streamed over the wireless network. Watch as much as you want, whenever you want. Truth be told, it was done partially in an attempt to hold off getting cable or satellite. I really don't want to get cable because that is another 50 bucks a month AT LEAST and then I will feel obligated to watch TV.

One of the pleasant surprises of the Netflix box is the discovery that a whole slew of Inspector cartoons from the 60s. The Inspector was kind of a spin-off of the Pink Panther cartoons and I remember them primarily from seeing them in the theater as a kid. On Saturday afternoons, you could pay a dollar to get in and then it was nothing but wall-to-wall cartoons for the next 3 hours. The Pink Panther and The Inspector were among the most frequently played.

Anyway, one of the first ones that I watched on the Netflix box was one of the ones I remember most vividly from my childhood. It was called "Cirrhosis of the Louvre" and involved a criminal named The Blotch, except the Inspector could only refer to him as "the bleutch" due to his thick French accent. The Blotch is basically an ink stain that can morph into just about any shape or form he wants. In fact, the first time you see him, the Inspector and his sergeant are in the Louvre (after The Blotch sent a letter to police vowing to steal every piece of art in the museum) and they step over a red bit of paint on the floor. The Inspector says to Sergeant Deux-Deux, "Look, someone left that bleutch of paint on the floor" only to have it gain human form as soon as they walk past it.

Naturally, the entire Louvre Museum is stolen on the Inspector's watch. But not before having The Blotch paint a likeness of himself on the back of the Inspector, leading to him being shot at and hit over the head with a club on several occasions.

Anna is loving the Pink Panther as well - having watched about 30 episodes after school tonight! We were marveling at how frequently people are depicted as being heavy smokers or drunk off their ass. What a difference 40 years makes! Now, we're all too sexy for our cigarettes.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dumb dumb

I think this has been the longest 5 days at work in the history of the world. I am very much looking forward to my day off tomorrow, even though a good portion of the afternoon will be spent listening to the piano tuner tune the piano.

Quite out of the blue, I started listening to Rachel Stevens again. God, I love that album. It's one of the albums from the fall of 2006 that I am still able to listen to. The first song I ever heard of hers was "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" that was on a compilation CD that I purchased at Borderline Music in Chicago. But the song I am loving these days is "Dumb Dumb." I can't get enough of it.

Speaking of dumb dumb, I have spent a good chunk of the last 24 hours trying to rid my computer of some spyware that managed to make it on despite my best efforts to keep the computer spyware free. I had noticed an abundance of pop-ups and pop-unders in the last few days. Stupidly, I had let my Norton Antivirus lapse and after spending 40 bucks to update that, it found a ton of shit that was bogging down my computer. I also e-mailed my computer guru brother-in-law who recommended Spybot and that also found some stuff. However, I am still noticing a pop-under every now and again. It has something to do with Google searching, I think. I am afraid that I may have to wipe the whole thing, but that is probably an over-reaction. The worst that will happen (more than likely) is that it will have to go to Best Buy and be cleaned out. I did buy the performance plan when I bought the computer but I will bet you a million dollars that this is not covered under the performance plan! (Look ma, it's just like health insurance!) My next computer is going to be a Mac, no doubt about it.

Someone flipped a switch in me this week and I am suddenly in the Christmas mood! It didn't hurt that we got our first significant snow of the season this weekend. I came home from work on Saturday night to find the tree set up! For the first time in forever, I had completely missed out on the hauling the Christmas shit up from the basement. We spent most of Saturday night decorating the tree and listening to Christmas songs on Heidi's iPod. Anna and I divided the Christmas songs into "booty shaking Christmas songs" and "non-booty shaking Christmas songs."

I am almost completely done Christmas shopping, if you can believe it.

Still plowing through The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. XO mentioned in the comment section of that post The Object of My Affection. I, too, read that book many years ago. It was after I had seen the movie, and the book is much more melancholy than the movie. But I suppose that was inevitable. But his mention of it made me at the very least want to rewatch the movie. I am pretty sure that I got rid of the book.

My year-end best of lists are in the offing. Expect the first probably next weekend. I will admit that I am having trouble getting 80 minutes for the year-end song post, so it might be less than that.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is already in Heidi's top 3 favorite books of all time, and she even said that it might eke ahead of American Gods (*gasp!*) for her. Based on this, I am reading it now, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this book DESERVED its Pulitzer Prize. This is apparent 50 pages in.

It will probably not overtake Bright Lights, Big City for me (that would be a tall order indeed), but I can see this surpassing A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is my favorite John Irving book.

Speaking of Irving, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to read him again - not even to reread. Don't get me wrong, I loved his books when I was in college, but nothing since Owen Meany has really spoken to me (although A Widow for One Year came very close.) I don't know if it was a function of where I was in life when I was reading his work (early 20s) but I just devoured his novels ferociously from about 1991-1993. Everyone has experiences they wish they could do over again, and one of them for me is feeling the thrill of my first time through The World According to Garp once again. But you can't go back, so you just try to remember it. I have tried rereading Garp on several occasions, and have not been able to get past the part where Garp is stuck on the roof of the infirmary. I was so profoundly moved by that book, that every attempt at a reread just feels empty.

Anyway, I'm glad to have discovered The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Fiction is always such a tough sell with me - most times I'd rather read non-fiction. But the story has grabbed me and is not letting go this time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Artistic supplement

I meant to post this with my Tusk post from earlier this week, but I completely forgot! As I was listening to Tusk, I remembered this picture of the cassette tape that I had drawn in a high-school journal from around that time period (1988.) I still have all those journals, tucked away in the basement and I had to go through pretty much all of them to find it, but I did.

I have cropped out all my writing around it because there is no way on God's green earth that those words will ever find their way on to the internet. Let's just say, that which seemed profound when I was 15 is not so profound (and actually quite painful!) at 36. *shudder*

What I love about the picture is how the top of the cassette kept getting larger because I couldn't write as small as the writing on the actual tape! I couldn't even get all the songs in.

In a world of make believe

So this morning, I'm cleaning up the kitchen and I felt like putting on some smooth 70s Helen Reddy. I have this bizarre attachment to Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits, which my mom had on 8-track when I was a kid. I was probably about Anna's age and I would listen to it endlessly, so much so that when I listen to it now, I expect the songs where you switched programs (remember those!?) to still have that fade-out and fade-in in the middle of the song.

Anyway, I was listening to the song "Angie Baby" which is famously cryptic in its lyrics. Reddy has never divulged what she thought the song was about, but it always kind of scared me as a kid. The chorus to "Angie Baby" has the following lines:

Angie baby, you're a special lady
Living in a world of make believe
Well, maybe.

I was telling Heidi that when I was a kid, I would hear those words and I mistook it for being the NEIGHBORHOOD of Make Believe, so whenever I heard the song, I immediately got images of King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah Saturday and Lady Elaine Fairchild in my head.

Very odd bedfellows, no? I had not seen a picture of Lady Elaine in ages and she is actually kind of freakish. And the Museum-Go-Round? What was that all about?

Incidentally, I think only in the 70s could someone with the name "Helen" be a pop star.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A chip off the old (Lego) block

Back in June, for Father's Day (Bedelia), Anna and Heidi got me Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga for the Wii. I had heard about it and seen it advertised in various places. My friend Matt assured me that it was a good game to play with kids Anna's age, mostly because it is more cooperative than it is competitive. And truthfully, who can resist seeing one of the defining movie series of our generation played out before you in Lego blocks?

So they picked it up - $49.99 in June of 2008. Of course, it is $19.99 at Target right now, but when I think of the hours that Anna and I have spent playing the game, I think that it has been worth more than 30 dollars. She loves it, and what's better, she has really learned a lot about the Star Wars mythology via this game. The game is clever, easy to play for the most part (although there are some places that just stump the hell out of you) and seeing those classic scenes made up of Legos is just a blast.

Anyway, last night, we took Super Mario Galaxy (which I think Anna is going to be getting for Christmas - it was the second time we had rented it) back to Hastings. I wasn't sure I was going to rent anything else but there was Lego Batman: The Videogame, which I had seen the trailer for and had been very interested in. Basically, it is the same premise as Lego Star Wars, only this time, you're playing with the classic Batman characters from the comic books. Anna thought that sounded like fun and so did I.

We were not disappointed. It is harder than Lego Star Wars, but I think a lot of that is the learning curve. We are used to characters that wield light sabers, blasters and use The Force. No such thing here, obviously. We're still getting the hang of the Batarang (and keep forgetting about being able to use it in sticky spots.) Overall, it suffers a little bit because you are not playing through something that is practically a part of our generational DNA, but it is colorful and funny and will definitely be replayable. Right now, we're playing cooperatively as Batman and Robin (for some reason, I ALWAYS have to be Robin,) but you can also play levels as one of many different villains. I can't wait to play the villain levels, but that will probably require us to purchase the game as I don't see us getting that far by next Saturday.

Ultimately, what I love about these games is the time I get to spend solving puzzles with my daughter, even though sometimes we get very frustrated (sometimes with each other.) The cartoony level of violence is appropriate for someone her age - there is no blood, only people made of Legos shattering apart. No, it is not the cure for cancer or world peace, but it is fun and something Anna and I can enjoy together.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A ghost through the fog

As Sophia Petrillo might say: Picture it. Des Moines, IA. 1988. A 15 year old Dan, recently immersed in Fleetwood Mac is busily buying up all the albums from the Stevie-Lindsey-Christine line up. On this particular day, the purchase was Tusk, the sprawling double album that was the follow-up to Rumours. It is also the last of that set of albums that he had yet to acquire. A stop at Merle Hay Mall left him with exactly what he needed and he held the cassette tape proudly in his hands. Once back at the car, he climbed in the back seat and his folks popped the tape into the car. Christine McVie's "Over & Over" started things off on a nice note. Then "The Ledge" came on and his WTF reaction commenced.

I have been listening to a lot of Tusk these days. As is the case with most of these kinds of things, I can't really put my finger on what brought it on. Tusk is certainly not my favorite Fleetwood Mac album. Because of this, I don't really feel qualified to talk about it -- I don't know that I've ever given it a fair shake. But I have been listening to Fleetwood Mac for 20 years now, so I figured, what the hell? In many ways, I feel like Tusk is a Lindsey Buckingham solo album that the rest of the band was invited to do guest spots on. It's not like Lindsey does the lead vocal on every song and yes, Christine and Stevie get a fair amount of the spotlight, but for some reason, it has always felt like Lindsey's record. Tusk is not a bad album. However, it is chronically misunderstood and also ultimately collapses under its own weight. Very few double albums avoid this fate.

My favorite story surrounding the Tusk album is about how the head honchos at Warner Bros. "saw their Christmas bonuses flying out the window" when they heard Tusk. Certainly, if they were expecting Rumours II, they did not get it. It is big and bold and experimental and self indulgent and only periodically commercial. That has always been my problem with it - it doesn't really sound like Fleetwood Mac. Oh, it does in places, but I think with this record, we saw what Lindsey truly wanted to do in the studio, and he has continued in this vein for most of his solo work.

It is easy to fault Lindsey for Tusk being a big behemoth of an album, but really, he is also key to its success. Lest Matt stop speaking to me, I will say that he does contribute a lot of strong songs, even if the production seems a bit batshit crazy in a lot of places. I have always been fond of "Not That Funny" and I have vivid memories of riding on a charter bus through the night on the way to the Ozarks for a school trip listening to "I Know I'm Not Wrong." Even though I initially reacted very negatively to it, I have come to really appreciate "The Ledge" despite the fact that I couldn't understand a single word of it for the longest time. And although I think the production on his own songs is insane, his production of Stevie is stellar, reminding us that he is without a doubt the producer she needs the most.

It is no secret that I have always had a very Stevie-centric view of Fleetwood Mac, and her five contributions to Tusk are among her best work, in or out of Fleetwood Mac. I will never forget that day in the spring of 88, listening to "Sara" for the very first time. I can't get my head around the fact that there was ever a time in my life that I did not know "Sara." Years later when I was in college, I had a mix tape that collected those five songs from Tusk so that I could listen to them one after another. "Beautiful Child" is arguably her best contribution to Fleetwood Mac, and "Storms" with its key line "never have I been a blue calm sea/I have always been a storm" was one of those songs that I kept coming back to during my adolescence and college years as I grew into who I am today.

Tusk is chock full of memories for me, even though as an album it never got nearly the rotation that Rumours, Mirage or Tango in the Night got. The spring of 1988 was a real watershed time for me, and the music associated with it is indelibly stamped into my brain. I will always be able to summon those feelings and images while listening to Tusk. Perhaps that's why I dug it out after all this time. As I get older, those times become much like Stevie's famous ghost through the fog. The music reminds me of where I've been and helps me figure out where I'm headed.

For all its foibles and indulgences, Tusk sounds better today than the first time I heard it nearly 20 years ago. Time has vindicated it to some extent. It will never be Rumours, but I don't think that was ever the intention.

They are all infants in that video!

Two Dollys down

For me, concerts always have this dreamlike quality about them. When you're in them, you can hardly believe that you are there, and when you leave the concert hall, the experience almost immediately begins to fade, the memory punctuated mostly by fleeting moments that really stick out. And on my budget (and with the kinds of performers I tend to see), going twice is not only financially impossible but also something that seems incredibly excessive.

So it was with great excitement that I got to see the great Dolly Parton for the second time this year on Wednesday night. Thanks to my folks who I kinda sorta talked into going and who then offered to pay for my ticket so how could I say no? Free concerts = the best kind of concerts.

I was ready for the show to be pretty much the same one that Heidi and I saw in May, since it was part of the same tour. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised to find a streamlined show from which much of the fat had been cut. Gone were the self-indulgent sections like "Puppy Love" and the enough-already section with the various band members playing non-Dolly songs from the 50s. Dolly also didn't take an intermission either, which made the show just seem that much tighter. One sad cut (for me) from the show was "Baby I'm Burning" which is perhaps my favorite disco-Dolly song. Oh well, I guess you can't win everything.

New numbers in this permutation of the show were a couple a capella numbers - one being "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" which she did with the male band members after talking about how she would always sing with her brothers as a child. Following this was a fantastic version of "Little Sparrow" which really showcased Dolly's 62 year old pipes (in a good way.)

Dolly was still telling her 30 year old jokes, mostly about how it takes a lot of money to look this cheap and how she wanted to look like the town tramp growing up. But she is so endearing, you forgive her for her repetition.

Sadly, there was still no "Potential New Boyfriend" or "Straight Talk" in the set list, but you take what you get. And when you see Dolly perform live, you know you are in the presence of a living legend and true American original. That cannot be overstated. Even my dad who is no big Dolly fan said that he enjoyed the concert who mentioned that her enthusiasm for performing is very obvious and she put on a very good show.

The life lesson I am taking away from both the Eric Hutchinson and the Dolly Parton show was that these are people who are following their dreams, and really living. Being able to witness people doing that which they truly love doing is an amazing thing. I think too many of us (myself included) have this tendency to just schlep through life, always hoping for the tomorrow that never comes. As Bernard Black would say, we suffer and slave and expire. These two individuals are living proof that he is not correct.

And Dolly, can you please have someone remix "Potential New Boyfriend"? Pretty please?

(photo via)