Saturday, January 31, 2009


I think, like it or not, "Candy Shop" has become a modern day Madonna classic - at least around our house. As I have said before, it is really so bad that it's good; not right, but it's okay. But the way that I know it is here to stay around our house? Anna has picked it up.

A couple choice incidents confirmed this for me. The other day, she was having honey on toast or graham crackers or something and apparently something clicked because suddenly I was greeted with "Hey Dad, honey is sticky and sweet!"

The other happened just last night. We were actually listening to "Candy Shop" in the car and I was a being a dork and singing along with it when suddenly from the back seat, I heard "Dad, what dose 'galore' mean?" ("Come on into my store/I've got candy galore" being the instigating line.) I said "Well, it means to have a lot of something." She thought for a minute and then said "Well, then that means [kid down the street] has Littlest Pets galore, you have action figures galore and Mom has writing galore!"

And to top it all off, as we got out of the car and were headed to the front door, I got this:

"Hey Dad, her sugar is raw."

Friday, January 30, 2009

A full-on chemical reaction

The video for Annie Lennox's "Shining Light" is out - and it's a keeper.

Watch more MTVM videos on AOL Video

What I love most about it is how it hearkens back to the "Little Bird" video - with all the different Annie's, but instead this time, they are kind of in the vein of the Robert Palmer girls.

I love Annie Lennox, and unlike Matthew Rettenmund, I actually quite prefer her solo career to many things that she did with Eurythmics. I mean, Diva provided a large part of the soundtrack for the winter of 92/spring 93. My only trouble with her and this new release is that the new songs on the album are both covers. Someone who is such a natural songwriter really doesn't need to do covers! But one really can't quibble when she gave us one of the strongest albums of 2007 (with nary a cover present on that record) and continues to be such a class act.

Edit: Changed the title of the post - I could have sworn that's what she was singing!

Not the least bit Suspect

I am off work today preparing to work the weekend but am also down for the count with a doozy of a cold. Not the "oh my God I'm so sick"-type cold, but the "prone to random sneezing fits, post-nasal drip"-type cold. So I took advantage of the time and used it to watch a movie that had just recently been brought back onto my radar - the 1987 Cher/Dennis Quaid film Suspect.

I had not seen Suspect in forever - I think it was the early 90s when I rabidly watched all of Cher's movies in a week or two - so I remembered nearly nothing about it. I remembered that Cher was a lawyer, that Dennis Quaid was a juror and that there was a murder trial and that Cher and Quaid's characters worked a little too closely together than a defense lawyer and a juror on said defense lawyer's case should be. But that was it.

The movie itself has aged quite well. Cher is very good in it, but she is Cher and not Madonna. Say what you will about Cher, but she took being an actress very seriously. There's still an element of "oh that's Cher" that she can't quite shake but she does a better job of it than Madonna ever did in most every movie she ever did. I think that Suspect is probably the best she ever did of disappearing into a role, with a close second being her turn as Rusty Dennis in Mask. And Cher is beautiful in this movie as well. I am pretty sure that even at that point in the 80s, she had been altered by the plastic surgeon's knife, but it is much more subtle than what she has now. The beauty at least appeared more natural.

The movie reminded me of how Cher really squandered her acting career on the Lori Davis hair care infomercial. There she was, Best Actress Oscar winner for Moonstruck (which I still think was the "oops! we screwed up!" Oscar that she should have gotten for Mask), and she decided to do an infomercial that became the butt of jokes for years to come. I don't think she has really had a credible movie role since then - certainly no starring role.

Oddly enough, I found myself obsessed with Cher's handwriting in the movie! Liam Neeson (who plays the man she is defending in the case) is a deaf-mute so consquently, she has to write on paper and blackboards and other such things. I was always thinking to myself "OMG! That's Cher's handwriting!" And it wasn't like it was a handwriting double because you saw Cher write it! Crazy, but that's how my brain works.

A great way to pass the morning - totally worth watching if you haven't seen it in a while. But it totally made me wish that Cher would record a new album!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

She works hard for the money

I am in SHOCK that Madonna is hitting the road again this summer (in Europe) with an extension of the Sticky & Sweet Tour.

As much fun as the show was, if it were to reappear in the States, there is no way I would pay that kind of money to see the same show again. Not no way, not no how.

I can only assume that her hauling herself back out on the road means that she either a) knows where the money is to be made these days or b) is over a barrel at Live Nation, with them putting the screws to her saying "get out there on the road!" I think it is probably a combination of both, but I have to say that I am disappointed that this is happening. The whole Hard Candy era is one best forgotten soon, and there's really no way that she can concentrate on new material if she is rehashing the past.

What I DO think this means is that this spring will see a rereleased and repackaged Hard Candy (with probably new remixes but no new songs or artwork or anything that would tempt me in the slightest to purchase it) and then a greatest hits in time for Christmas 2009. As I was saying to a friend tonight in e-mail, by Q4 of 2009, there may be no one with money left to buy the hits package! I also wonder what the tour extension will do for the planned release of the DVD. Perhaps she hated how the Buenos Aires dates turned out so much that she's going to try to get a better recording this summer.

I really dislike how much Madonna is repeating herself these days. It has not been this hard to be a fan since the Erotica days when it seemed like she was making bad decision after bad decision. I am still holding out hope for something brilliant.

But of all the tours to extend, why did it have to be this one? Just saying.

(Thanks to XO for inspiring this post)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Axle boots

So remember the clickety-clack sound the car was making on the way back from Heidi's dad's this weekend? We took the car in today and the verdict is that two of the four axle boots (aka CV boots) are bad. One is completely shot and leaking grease all over the place. The second is cracked badly and in danger of going out. This is what a CV boot looks like - I had never seen one before today. The one in the picture is even cracked, in honor of the ones on our car. (via)

Obviously, we're going to replace this - as one place I was reading online said "That front wheel coming off at 60 MPH in traffic could ruin your whole week." But, as with most things that occur, there is a healthy dose of physics involved, even in the places you would think would be unaffected by physics.

Physics? Why yes. I'm speaking specifically about Newton's Third Law of Motion. For every force or action, there is always an equal or opposite force or reaction. Such is the case with the demise of two of my CV boots (and possibly the CV joint itself on one of them - that much I am not entirely sure of. Although from the sounds of what I've read online, yes we're getting a new CV joint.)

We have what can only be characterized as a sizeable amount of credit card debt. Some of it kind of happened to us (you do double mortgage payments for 18 months and then sell the other house at a $12,000 loss, there's going to be some financial hell to pay later) and some of it we did to ourselves. I'm not looking for sympathy or consolation - it is what it is. I have made my bed, but you know what? It's kind of lumpy and annoying so I'm doing something about it. My goal this year was to pay $5,000 on the credit card - a good sized chunk of the balance. That boiled down to around $420 a month (we have a rocking interest rate because Wells Fargo owns our souls.) I managed to do that payment in January, so YAY me! Then the CV boots went out and the bill for that?


Yep, as my father says (and his father before him), don't get money ahead or the kid gets sick. Or in this case, the car.

Heidi and I were discussing that as cars go, this one has been one of the better ones we've had. It has really not given us one little bit of trouble in the nearly 4 years we have owned it (except for air conditioning/heating stuff which wasn't that expensive to fix.) It's the first real repair we've had to do.

But yes, $420 off the credit card, $424 on. Although maybe not all of it has to go there. We'll see. But mostly I'm just glad the axle didn't completely crack apart on the way back on Saturday. Someone (still not sure who or what) was watching out for us.

(Doesn't all this talk of CV joints and axles and cars make me sound like I am all car smart? It's all smoke and mirrors, folks.)

This is not a love song

A lazy blog post, I know, but I CANNOT get this song out of my head.

"Bye Bye Baby" is one of my favorite songs from Erotica, and while not technically an album track (it did get a single release overseas), one of my favorite Madonna album tracks as well. It transports me instantly back to the time I first heard it - that's what the best music does.

It would also behoove me to rewatch The Girlie Show sometime. It has been an age since I have seen it. I still remember watching the taped HBO broadcast of it in Jeff's basement. In the days before the internet, the entire show was a surprise!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not quite a thousand words

The picture speaks for itself.

This picture was taken at Heidi's dad's restaurant in Andrew, IA - we drove there and back today. Actually, we drove there and then swung back through Iowa City which is decidedly not on the way back but it had been so long since we'd been to Iowa City that we just thought what the hell? Plus driving I-80 is so much more pleasant than US 30 from Cedar Rapids to Ames. So we hung out at Coral Ridge Mall for a bit and hit Barnes & Noble while Anna played in the playlot and I wondered how many more years it'll be before she's not interested in that at all. I have been struggling a lot recently with her rapidly disappearing kid-ness. Oh, don't get me wrong, I know I have several years left before teenage rebellion and/or ennui sets in, but sometimes the notion that this is my only shot at this gets the better of me.

It was a good trip. I think we were all kind of secretly dreading it because the drive is so long, but it was really good to see her dad again who, because of the distance, we rarely see. I have such mixed feelings on small towns like Andrew. On the one hand, there is this connectedness in small towns that seems to be decidedly absent in larger towns and cities. On the other hand, I could never do a small town again because of the fact that in many of them, if you don't have a great-great-great-grandparent buried in the cemetery, you'll never be "one of them." I feel bad for small towns, because they are withering and blowing away in the wind. And it's only going to get worse.

Personally, I'm not sure I could live in a town smaller than Ames (~50,000 if you count the 25,000 students that attend Iowa State. Believe me, they count.) I don't mean to crap all over small towns. I grew up in a smallish town and had a good childhood, but I really want to give my daughter a wider world-view than what can be afforded in rural small towns these days. And my politics are not really in line with what, let's face it, is and is likely to remain a pretty conservative part of Iowa. Iowa may have gone blue this year, but don't kid yourself.

A good day overall except for the odd clickety-clack sound coming from the back tire area of the car. I was convinced for a while on the way home that the back tires were going to go flying off and we would go careening in the ditch. Fortunately, it did not happen, but I am getting that looked at as soon as possible.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Turn the kitchen light off: A rebuttal

Heidi wrote a post that made me laugh hysterically when I got home from work today. I was the source of the post, but the bottom line is that embedded in Heidi's post is the YouTube video of "Let's Go To The Movies" from the 1982 film version of the musical Annie. My favorite part in the whole song is when Albert Finney as Oliver Warbucks warbles "Turn the kitchen light off!" as they all pile into the car (and of course, the light goes off in the background.) Here it is in case you don't want to navigate over to Heidi's blog. The money shot is at 1:58.

What Heidi didn't tell you is that one of my favorite stories from our time together is when I had just gotten done working an overnight shift and as is my usual, made a beeline for the bed. She had not gotten up yet and crawled over next to me. For whatever reason, I had turned on the light on my bedside table and, as I was drifting off to sleep, I hear from behind me, you guessed it...

"Turn the kitchen light off!"

Hysterical laughing ensued.

Lest you think that is the only Annie reference we have, there is also the time when we were in New York and we had written down some addresses or something prior to going out that day. Giving me the paper, Heidi says to me "Put it in your pocket, Mrs. Mudge." - referring, of course, to what Albert Finney says to Bernadette Peters when, posing as Annie's dead mother, she tries to refuse the 50,000 smackers. It caught me so off guard and struck me as so funny and perfect, I have never loved her more than at that moment. (I can't really say what I was really thinking as I do have some degree of modesty and propreity but you can fill in the blanks.)

Undoubtedly, we were meant for each other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Can't talk must read

It's taken longer than I thought, but I am in the can't-put-it-down phase with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. This is such a relief. There was a spot about third of the way through the book at which point I wondered if I would finish it.

It had such a strong start and then it just kind of got lost. Or so it seemed. Now I am up later than I really should be on the night before a day that I have to get up earlier than I would like and I can't put the damn thing down. It is reminding me of John Irving at his best - and that is quite a compliment even though I have been unable to reread Irving since college (A Prayer For Owen Meany may soon be the first reread of his I have ever done) I will finish it before the end of the week without a doubt.

Confidential to the person who was the recipient of Kavalier & Clay for Christmas: don't give up on it midway through. Persevere. It is totally worth it.

Lead foot down on my accelerator

As usual, it is Heidi's fault.

Heidi dared to obliquely mention Pam Tillis' "Maybe It Was Memphis" in a blog post that she did and it has opened the country music floodgates. I have a pretty low tolerance for country music - although there was a time in the 90s that pop music let me down so much that I had no choice but to defect for a while. I eventually came back home, but that was not until after I had picked up a few guilty pleasures along the way.

Perhaps the guiltiest of all these was Jo Dee Messina. She really has only one good album - that being 1998's I'm Alright, but as 90s country-pop goes, it's tough to beat. Heidi always disliked Messina because she had this "robotic" quality to her voice, as if there had been a great deal of studio trickery and auto-tuning of her voice. That is not an altogether bad thing (the DVD of Sticky & Sweet is going to have to have some MAJOR auto-tuning done), but it just never appealed to her. Listening to it now, I know she was right.

I, however, loved the cheesy lyrics and stories she told in her songs. One of my favorites is "Bye Bye" which I swear could be a great pop song. She also looks GREAT in this video. She is probably considered fat by industry standards because she does not weigh less than 100 pounds, but the fact that she is not a stick insect is of great relief to me. What the hell do labels know anyway?

Like I said, my flirtation with Messina was brief, but I did pull out I'm Alright this morning while I was getting ready and it sounded pretty good. I had forgotten about how the song "No Time For Tears" managed to turn "tears" into a two-syllable word. Te-ars.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dolly's big 6-3

Happy 63rd birthday to the first lady of country music, the one and only Dolly Parton! It's hard to believe she is 63, and judging from the two times I saw her in concert last year, she is one of the hardest working 63 year olds I can think of! My fascination with Dolly and her music has been there for as long as I can remember, and although she's had some missteps along the way, she is still one of the most thoroughly entertaining performers I can think of. She is, as RuPaul would say, the total package.

So in honor of Dolly's 63rd, I have done up a list, Thursday 13 style, of my 13 favorite Dolly songs. Links to streams (if there are any) and a couple videos thrown in for good measure. As always, in no particular order (except for maybe #1)

1) Potential New Boyfriend
(from Burlap & Satin)
If any Dolly song is an untapped gay anthem, it is this one. It is, hands down, my favorite Dolly song not written by Dolly. A great chorus and bridge and a great line in "twisting my ignition key, turned my motor on." Pure camp from beginning to end and I love every second of it. Desperately DESPERATELY needs to be remixed for the clubs.

2) Baby I'm Burnin' (from Heartbreaker)
My favorite disco-Dolly song. First heard this on the Dolly Live in London concert on HBO that I watched over and over again back in 1983 and was probably the source of all this foolishness in the first place. I would pay good money for a copy of that concert now.

3) Tennessee Homesick Blues (from Rhinestone)
This is the song that plays over the opening credits of Rhinestone and is the only watchable part of the entire movie. It also includes the GEM of a line "Daddy you can load the rifles up/We're gonna load them dogs on the pick-up truck/And head up to Calhoun county/And catch us a coon." DEAR GOD.

4) Jolene (from Jolene)
A classic Dolly song that she never seems to get tired of doing. I particularly love her take on it on the Live & Well CD in which the lyrics are changed to "Your smile is like a breath of spring/Your voice is soft like summer rain/And I cannot compete with you/Drag queens."

5) Shattered Image
(from All I Can Do/Halos & Horns)
Dolly's response to the tabloids, originally recorded for the All I Can Do album, and rerecorded for Halos & Horns.

6) 9 to 5 (from 9 to5 and Other Odd Jobs)
A very cliched choice, but it's a great song. I still can't get over the genius of rhyming "kitchen" with "ambition." It was probably the first Dolly song I ever heard and is forever linked to the movie of the same name which is in my Top 5 favorite movies of all time.

7) Light of a Clear Blue Morning (from Straight Talk)
There are a couple versions of this song, but the one I like best is the one from the Straight Talk soundtrack. Similar to "Tennessee Homesick Blues", it plays over the opening credits while Dolly's character is driving into Chicago. I can't drive into Chicago without thinking of this song.

8) Romeo (from Slow Dancing With The Moon)
Dolly and her flying buttresses (including a then red-hot Billy Ray Cyrus) make this song reek of 90s country, and I like it in spite of that. A very fun video as well.

9) Two Doors Down (from Here You Come Again)
There is a version out there of "Two Doors Down" that is apparently much more country and much less pop-oriented than the one that is famous, and what I wouldn't give to hear it. It only exists on early vinyl pressings of the Here You Come Again album, so chances are slim that I will ever hear it.

10) Down From Dover (from Little Sparrow)
As I have said before, it's the best baby-born-dead song ever. Rerecorded for Little Sparrow with an extra verse that was omitted from the original, it has heavy Celtic influences and wrings every bit of sorrow out of the music as is humanly possible.

11) Marry Me (from Little Sparrow)
Seriously, Dolly's bluegrass renaissance in the late 90s/early 00s gave us some of the best albums of her career. Her songwriting was top-notch again and some terrific bluegrass covers also resulted from that period. "Marry Me" is probably my favorite Dolly original from that time period.

12) Coat of Many Colors (from Coat Of Many Colors)
You just can't beat a classic, and the story of Dolly's multicolored coat that she wore to school only to have everyone laugh at her is a part of the Dolly legend. Although from the sounds of it, it's all true. Also adapted into a children's book that I read to Anna a lot. What's next, "Down From Dover"? ;)

13) Here You Come Again (from Here You Come Again)
I love this song, through and through. It is 70s country-pop at its finest and although Dolly didn't write it, it has become very strongly associated with her.

Honorable mention goes to Dolly's bluegrass cover of "Stairway To Heaven." Robert Plant actually approved of what she did, but more importantly, it was the song we used to lull baby Anna to sleep back in her infancy. Hey, at least it wasn't "Down From Dover"!

And here's a couple pictures I desperately wanted to fit into the post, but couldn't!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Weekend randomness

1) Jeff came up yesterday afternoon to make use of the tonnage of art supplies that Anna received for Christmas. This allowed Heidi and me to go out on our own and naturally, we went to...the University Book Store. We can't decide if that makes us the coolest or lamest married couple ever, but we are erring on the side of cool. Mostly we walked through the aisles of textbooks and muttered "never again" under our breath! Although I was wishing that I could take the class that required Suburban Nation and Crabgrass Frontier as required reading. Of course, if I took a class in which they were required they would immediately be boring.

But perhaps the most awe-inspiring book we found was this one.

Seriously, I didn't know there was that much to say about lichens of North America!

2) A little later in the evening, we all went out to Carlos O'Kelly's and Jeff related another anecdote from the Madonna book written by her estranged brother. As it turns out, Christopher Ciccone directed a Dolly Parton video ("Peace Train") and there was talk, however brief, of Madonna and Dolly collaborating on an album - as in Dolly sings five of Madonna's songs and Madonna sings five of Dolly's songs. It never happened, but of all the Madonna projects that never came to fruition, that one is probably the one most likely to cause me to wet myself if it ever did materialize.

3) My glasses are crushed. I rolled over onto them as I had left them laying on the floor. Fortunately, I have another pair from one prescription ago so I am not blind, but they are definitely not my most preferred frames.

I am going out to Pearle this afternoon to see if they can magically fix them.

4) We finally watched Iron Man last night. Everyone told us we would love it, and we did enjoy it, but in the final analysis I was underwhelmed. The pacing was all off and the more we talked about it, the more it seemed like a pilot for a television series. All in all, I liked The Incredible Hulk better.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What might have been

I have bitched A LOT in this space about how I really do despise the Hard Candy album art. Actually, it doesn't stop with the album art, but every. single. photo. inside the CD booklet as well. As Jeff put it (in his patented "I wish I had thought of that!" way), she seriously looks like she is recovering from a bout of violent stomach flu or diarrhea (or maybe both) in all the photos. The worst offender is probably this one.

She has a very "pass the Imodium!" look if you ask me.

Anyway, via Boy Culture, some of what would have been the Hard Candy album artwork has finally leaked and, as usual, Matthew Rettenmund is right and they kind of make her look a bit ridiculous. However, I think that it is FAR AND AWAY preferable to what we got.

There is still the unnerving emphasis on her crotch, but she at least looks healthy! I love how the windswept shoulder length hair and the prevalance of white makes her look like a naughty angel (but with a soft side)! The photos were still taken after what I believe to be ill-advised plastic surgery. I never expected Madonna to give into the vanity of stardom, but perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part.

I remain hopeful that the next phase of Madonna's career, no matter what it is, will show her embracing her age rather than running screaming from it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Facebook reality

This video is making the rounds. It is done in jest, but it is spot on as well.

It's funny how Facebook friend requests go in waves, and then plateau in between. At least that's been my experience. For me, Facebook is a fun way to keep in touch with other people, but the real writing and stuff I really care about will always be here in this spot. Facebook is good for sharing links that don't deserve a whole blog post and for random thoughts that can't possibly BE a whole blog post. The applications (for the most part) can hang.

(via Facebook, naturally)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GH us

It has taken months and months of watching me play (and also the addition of drums) but Anna is totally sold on Guitar Hero right now. There's a two hour late start for school this morning and instead of watching PBS Kids or the Netflix box, I hear her in there playing Guitar Hero ("Barracuda" to be precise.)

One of the new features of Guitar Hero: World Tour is the ability to make your own rocker. This was too tempting to resist. Both Anna and I have made reasonable approximations of ourselves - or rather, what we would want to look like as rockers.

Here's Anna - looking kind of like a Barbie if you ask me.

And here's me, if I were actually a rocker with bulky muscles and abs of steel. You can't really tell, but the guy is actually wearing glasses. He's a pretty cool dude, even though I have a mermaid tattoo (Anna's request.)

Yes, the picture quality is terrible. You try taking a picture of the TV screen and see how well it comes out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Let it snow

Actually, despite my previous post professing to love the snow and winter (which I still do), at this point, let's not and say we did.

Last winter we were stuck in an incredibly snowy pattern. I don't know how much snow we got last winter, but it doesn't seem like I fired up the snowblower even half as much as I have this year. It snowed again today. The snowstorm delivered much less than it promised, but it is of the light Canadian variety which will cause great travel problems long after it stops falling.

I cleared the driveway for the what feels like hundredth time this winter today before going to pick Anna up from school, which got out at 1:30 today. As a friend of mine said this morning, Alice Cooper singing "School' 1:30" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

For those of you who live where there is no snow - whether you usually get snow and haven't gotten any this year or you never get snow - I snapped some pictures of what I'm up against right now. (click photo to enlarge)

A look down our street. That sidewalk in the foreground is ours.

The entrance to the driveway - what I have been able to carve out. By far the worst part to snowblow because it contains all the snow from the street that the plow pushes out of the street.

The side of the house down the driveway. That door was recently openable as I lugged all the Christmas stuff to the basement through that door. As it stands now, we won't be using that until the spring.

The path that I have dug through the back deck to make it easier to get to the garage.

One of the most crucial snow removal places - the turn from the main driveway to the long approach to the street. Heaping mounds of the white stuff mostly thanks to the snowblower, but still.

Anna's swing set (and mine from my youth and my mom's from hers) slowly being consumed by snow. Pretty soon we won't see the glider.

We're not to the point where you have to start shoveling the roof, but I'm starting to wonder when that will happen.

What we need is a SERIOUS melt before we get anymore. But that's not likely to happen as there's a 60% chance of snow tomorrow.

And once it does melt, I have no idea where it will go. Actually, I do. Skunk River and Squaw Creek, which will probably result in a repeat of this.

Happy snow everyone!! I still like it, but everything in moderation.

Friday, January 09, 2009

This much is true

I can never live where it does not snow.

It is snowing tonight that kind of snow that is so light and fine it blows all over the place and makes it hard to drive because of drifting and poor visibility. But it is beautiful. Given the choice between the coldest day of winter and the hottest, muggiest day of summer, it is no contest. I will pick winter every time.

Shining light

I am STUNNED at how good Annie Lennox's new song "Shining Light" is. Right now, all we have is a radio rip of it, but it is assured a spot on 2009's year end list. It is going to be on her greatest hits set which is coming out in February. Even though it is a cover, it is classic Annie.

It has been a long time since I bought a no-frills greatest hits disc. Honestly, I don't think they're really all that necessary any longer. I could have sworn that ChartRigger expounded on this, and I'm still convinced he did, but most fans can put together better best-of sets than labels. But Annie is smart - throwing in a DVD of her music videos. Now THAT I will pony up the cash for. Even though it doesn't have, as XO lamented last year, the "Money Can't Buy It" video.

*sigh* Now if we can just get the Savage longform video on DVD, all will be well with the world.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

We started singin'

Matt, Bess and I have this CD club type thing that we do on roughly an every-other-month basis. How it works is we each contribute 4 songs that are either in heavy rotation or that we particularly like. We limit it to 4 songs each so as not to overwhelm the other listeners and to force us to choose the songs carefully. The result is a 12 song CD that is composed of three different people's musical tastes. After the CD has been distributed, discussion commences. Our tastes are all over the map, but oddly enough, each CD really turns out well and they are great fun to receive and discuss.

This time around, I came up with the brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea of contributing only cover songs. I really love cover songs, but there are so many bad ones that separating the wheat from the chaff gets a bit overwhelming. In my opinion, what makes a good cover song is taking a song and kind of turning it on its ear. Doing a note for note remake of a song is not only dreadfully boring, it is also lazy. (Notable exceptions to this rule do exist, but they are just that -- exceptions.) Since it's usually my job to contribute a Madonna song to the CD, I got to thinking about covers that Madonna has done, and there really aren't very many. There's "Fever" from Erotica and "Imagine" which she did on the Re-Invention Tour. She's also mashed "Billie Jean" into a live version of "Like A Virgin" and "Just My Imagination" into "Rain" on the Girlie Show.

And then, there's "American Pie."

"American Pie" completely embodies the reason why I believe Madonna doesn't do many covers in the studio. I'm not sure whose idea it was for Madonna to record the Don McLean song about the day the music died, but I remember hearing about it and kind of getting a sinking feeling. There are many things that Madonna can do, but by recording "American Pie", she was about to find a new talent - pissing off classic rock fans en masse. William Orbit put in his requisite blips and bleeps and Madonna, to her credit, reinterpreted the song in a very post-Ray of Light Madonna way, thus fitting in with my criteria for a good cover.

But the thing is, it's not a very good cover. Fans of the original song were up in arms over Madonna's treatment of their beloved classic. In the process of recording "American Pie", she eviscerated the song, removing God-knows-how-many verses. Really, she had to because there was no way that radio would play the full version (and as it turns out, they didn't play what she did record very much either.) Although the a cappella version performed in the cemetery is the single watchable scene in The Next Best Thing, it's one of those songs that I really wish she hadn't recorded.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy it from time to time. But in the pantheon of Madonna songs, it is definitely in the lowest 10th percentile of songs. Which means she'll probably trot it out on tour in a couple years.

I think that part of the problem is that Madonna has such a bigger than life persona, even at this stage in her career with white-hot fame decidedly behind her, that when she tries to do covers, the cover always gets caught up on the Madonna and it becomes Madonna singing someone else's song, rather than her being able to make it her own. Celebrity karaoke anyone?

The converse is also true in that I think that good covers of Madonna's work are few and very far between. There are some big exceptions - Darren Hayes' "Dress You Up", Ofra Haza's "Open Your Heart", and Chapin Sisters' "Borderline" spring to mind right away. I'm sure there are others (help me out here, fellow Madge freaks) but most of them are just bad ideas from the start. And again, it's extricating the song from Madonna that proves to be the hardest part. Madonna's own songs are so much part of her, part of the entire Madonna package that whenever anyone else tries to cover her work, I can't forget the original. Part of that is the insanely strong visuals that are attached to the vast majority of Madonna's work. I sometimes wonder if covers of Madonna songs are easier for casual fans to swallow as opposed to us uberfans that have immersed themselves in her music for a quarter century.

So Madonna and covers - a contentious relationship all around. There probably won't be a Madonna song on this CD that Matt, Bess and I put together, but there are a lot of other cover songs to choose from. And because I can, here's Duffy doing "Borderline" - one I discovered while You Tubing those other videos.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Whither goeth LiveJournal

So have you heard that LiveJournal might go under? Rumors are swiriling, bur really, it's hard telling. It doesn't really matter all that much to me as the LiveJournal account I have is used for one of two things - commenting on other LiveJournals and the rare occasions where I simply must post something that I don't want on the Blogger blog. The only reason I would not post something on the Blogger blog is if it is something I deem too sensitive, too personal, and/or when I am not in the least bit interested in a public explosion of anger and emotion and would prefer to do it in a more controlled environment. That has happened exactly 5 times in the last 2 and a half years.

However, I know a lot of people who are dedicated LJ users, not the least of which is Heidi. But many other people I know use LJ and really like it. Unfortunately, there is no really quick and easy way to back up Live Journal - something that I am finding all too apparent tonight. I have been trying to import Heidi's LJ into a Blogger account and all the tools I have been trying to use have been failing. The LJ2Blogger tool that I was trumpeting on Facebook earlier today is not nearly as functional as I was hoping. An attempt to install an updated version of it failed miserably. So then I went and used the "export blog" function on LJ which allows you to export a month at a time to an XML file. Blogger failed to recognize it when I tried to import the XML file there, but Wordpress did. Only trouble there is that it is not formatted for shit and I will have to go in and do a bunch of highly laborious formatting to make it look nice. And add to that, I'm not sure any of the pictures went across.

I think that the rumors of the death of LJ are very premature, but still, it never hurts to back something up, especially something that you've put 3+ years in to. I know that I have this blog backed up on Wordpress in case the unthinkable happens. It's not like it'd be the end of the world as we know it if the blog up and disappeared, but I would be sad. It is something that I am kind of attached to and even though I sometimes go back and read posts (especially from the early years) and cringe, it is a reflection of me, for better or for worse. And to have it disappear would be like losing a little part of me, silly as that may sound.

So I will continue to endeavor to back up Heidi's LJ. If I have tremendous success, I will let other fellow LJers know.

Monday, January 05, 2009

No more 60 dollar rainbows

Once upon a time, just prior to the mp3 revolution, I bought a Dolly Parton CD off of eBay for an absolutely ridiculous amount of money - something like 68 dollars. The CD in question? Rainbow. It was the first album Dolly delivered for CBS/Columbia in what was to be a "one pop album for every country album" deal. One listen to the album and it's easy to realize why the rest of the albums Dolly released while signed to CBS/Columbia were country albums.

But in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I fell for the album hook, line and sinker in the fall of 1992. The Iowa City Public Library had a copy of it, and I checked it out. It is yet another album forever married to the fall of 1992, even though Rainbow is completely and utterly lost in its 80s pop production. But I still love the album even though not many people outside diehard Dolly fans are aware of it. My favorite song on the album is "Savin' It For You" (stream) which was actually written by the same guy that wrote Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Heidi and I laugh hysterically at the bridge, especially that hilarious last line:

Let's say hello a special way
Lovers who love and love to play
You have been all that I can think about
There's never a doubt it's you
And you alone that turns me on
Anticipation now is gone
And we're alone

So just get comfy and, oh yeah, unplug the phone

Cheese upon cheese upon cheese. But it's oh-so-good. And the key change in the last verse? Heaven.

Anyway, I noticed on Amazon MP3 the other day that the bottom has just dropped out of the Rainbow market. After years and years of being out of print, it is now available for download. Now everyone can experience the cheesefest that is Rainbow, and not have to pay through the nose for it (at $9.90, it's a bargain!)

I also noticed that there is a vinyl copy of Rainbow for sale there. Hmmmmmmm. Must resist.

The interesting coda to the whole 60 dollar Rainbow experience is that a couple years later, I found Dolly's The Great Pretender CD at Stuff, Etc. in Iowa City. I picked it up for $3.99 and then turned around and sold it on eBay for $98. I really wish it had broken into triple digits, but still, a 2500% return on investment isn't too shabby.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A goods train running through my life

We all walk through this world alone,
we keep ourselves untouched, unknown.
You look up to the sky above you,
read this there - I love you.
Oh it's written there,
you know I love you, love you, love you.

- "Troubled Mind", Everything But The Girl

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bittersweetness follows

For years, my favorite form of nostalgia was 80s nostalgia. This has always made sense to me because I grew up in the 80s, went to high school in the 80s and pretty much lapped up everything the pop culture that surrounded me had to offer. As the 80s morphed into the 90s and grunge took over, I felt more and more lost on the pop cultural landscape. The pop music that provided so much of the background music of my teenage years was drowned out by stuff that I just couldn't assimilate into my tastes or listening habits.

So it came as quite a surprise to me when recently I came down with a serious case of 90s nostalgia. However , it shouldn't really surprise me that much because as much as our teenage years are formative, I really think that our college years provide most of the direction that we take as young adults. And while I think what catalyzed my 90s nostalgia was the recent recommendation of Everything But The Girl's Amplified Heart (an album I swear I had not heard until I ordered it for dirt cheap off Amazon Sellers after the recommendation was made), what set it into high gear was my serendipitous rediscovery of R.E.M.'s Automatic For The People.

I have never been what I would classify as an R.E.M. fan, but Automatic For The People is an undisputed masterpiece and probably in my top 10 favorite albums. It came out in the autumn of 1992, which musically was one of the most important and vivid times of my life, although the release of a new R.E.M. record did not even make a blip on my radar at that point in time. Prior to this release, I had always chalked up Michael Stipe as a big whiner, a precursor to the emo boys that seem to emerge and disappear on a daily basis now. I remember my brother singing a parody of "Losing My Religion" - something like "that's me in the spotlight / human life is worthless." So I always kind of avoided R.E.M.

A friend of mine in college (and my eventual roommate) was a huge R.E.M. fan. We met because he was living with a friend of mine from my hometown and she introduced us because we were both in pharmacy school and would be in a lot of the same classes. I remember saying to Sam (name changed) when I first found out that he liked R.E.M. that he was the type of person that I would expect to like R.E.M. Yeah, I was kind of a dick sometimes, but it was true. Despite my initial insensitivity, we became quite good friends. And he was pretty much the one that introduced me to Automatic For The People, although at first, it was mostly by osmosis. He would play it in the car when we went places or if he was driving me back to the dorms (since I was without vehicle) or whatever and I would listen to it and for the first time, I decided that Michael Stipe might actually have something to say that I could relate to.

I can't listen to Automatic For The People and not be reminded of Sam and those years I spent in pharmacy school. The singles stand out for me so strongly. They are also the ones that many would complain have worn out their welcome due to overplay or overexposure. It pisses me off when someone says "oh, that can't be art, it's too popular." That is bullshit because just because something is popular does not mean that it can't be brilliant. Songs like "Man on the Moon" and "Everybody Hurts" (I always wanted that hat Stipe wore in the video) still ring as true today as they did back then. And even something as completely unintelligible as "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" has aged gracefully and is still highly listenable.

It's not surprising that what I love most about Automatic for the People is its huge thread of melancholy that runs through the majority of the album. One thing about music and me - I can use it to modulate my moods quite effectively. And if, for whatever reason, I am in the mood for introspection, I know just where to go. Usually it's Mary Chapin Carpenter, but this R.E.M. album is exceptional for that as well. One need look no further than songs like "Try Not To Breathe"and "Sweetness Follows" to find songs that make you look inward and turn down the noise in the world around us. Both deal with the end of life, the former taking the run-up to death, the latter with the reactions afterward ("oh, oh, but sweetness follows.")

And then there's "Nightswimming" which is probably my favorite of all of R.E.M.'s songs, even though that's a bit of a cliche since it seems like it is so many people's favorite R.E.M. song. I did not know that it was a single until just recently, and that there was a video for it as well.

Stipe's cracking voice over mournful piano and strings is an odd companion to 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days" and honestly, I prefer Stipe's take on remembering what many refer to as "the good old days." (and not just because so many of my college friends became self-described 10,000 Maniacs "fans" based on their fondness for that one song.) "Nightswimming" paints a vivid picture of youth and a time before life's responsibilities overtook us. I can literally listen to this song on a loop over and over again. It's like looking at a watercolor painting and seeing something new in it every time and watching what you saw the last time disappear into the whole. In short, it's a masterpiece and one of my all time favorite songs. The sad thing is, though, that I frequently forget about it, but rediscovering it is like finding an old friend.

I always wanted to have a better friendship with Sam than I think I ever had. Ultimately, the competition that frames so many male friendships proved too hard to avoid. We were, as I said previously, in all the same classes so the temptation to compete on tests and for the attention of women was a death knell. My then-undiagnosed depression didn't help me on any level so I'm sure that I was a very high-maintenance friend from time to time. But there are a lot of good memories in there - staying up all night playing the original version of Sid Meier's Civilization, running to Taco Bell at 11:30 at night, Cricket hair, and nights of playing hide and seek with our friend Ellen at the Bowen Science Building when taking breaks from studying.

Still, it's hard to listen to Automatic For The People and not have a little bit of bittersweetness follow. But it's the kind of bittersweet I can deal with and actually kind of like.

If you don't have this album, you really need it. It is available for one lousy penny on Amazon Sellers. Sadly, you cannot download the whole album on iTunes (or anywhere else for that matter.)

Friday, January 02, 2009

You provide the monster

My friend Matt gave me what is probably the least expected of Christmas gifts this year. To those who followed Nerdery Week, it's no secret that I have quite the collection of horror action figures. Aliens, zombies, spiders - the monsters are there in great number. Matt found the missing element that complemented the monsters perfectly.

Horrified B-Movie Victims!

The back of the box actually says "We provide the screaming hordes! You provide the monster!"

I got them set up yesterday, and they fit in just as well as I expected they would. Behold.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Little things

Ever since I wiped my hard drive, I have not been able to get Gmail Notifier to work. No matter what I did, it wouldn't connect to my Gmail account. I had given up and installed the Notifier extension for Firefox, but it's really quite a lousy substitute for the Real Thing.

Tonight, I fixed it.

Without going into horrible mundane detail, Gmail Notifier is now working again. Something with "always using https" options or whatever in Gmail. I downloaded a patch and all is right with the world once again.