Friday, July 30, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #12 - The Day of the Triffids

I picked up this book entirely because of Brendan - a guy whose blog I read and book reviews I enjoy on GoodReads. He reads at about 100 times the rate I do. I haven't counted, but I'm pretty sure he's already read at least 50 books in the time its taken me to get to twelve. But anyway, he read and reviewed John Wyndham's sci-fi classic The Day of the Triffids and I'll be damned but I didn't even know it was a book. I figured it was just a bad 60's monster movie that probably ran on late night TV a hundred times a year when I was a kid - back in the days before late night TV was sold to the highest bidder.

The Day of the Triffids is, as Brendan said, a good post-apocalyptic thriller. The book opens with the protagonist, Bill Masen, in the hospital with his eyes bandaged. He tells the story of how triffids - 8 foot mobile plants that display semi-sentience and also carry a dangerously poisonous sting - came to be. While the origin of triffids is deliberately vague, the theory that Masen (who happens to be a biologist who specializes in triffid behavior) puts forth is that they were genetically engineered by the Soviets, with their seeds inadvertently released into the world. Eventually through the pruning of the triffids' stings and the creation of triffid nurseries, mankind and triffids learn to occupy the same space, but it always seems an uneasy peace. In fact, the reason for Masen's hospitalization is a triffid sting to the eyes.

He also explains how the night before, a brilliant green meteor shower lit up the night sky, which has now led to the blinding of anyone who witnessed it. Fortunately for Masen, he is left unaffected due to the fact that his eyes were bandaged. The hospital is eerily quiet, as are the London streets surrounding the hospital. He eventually removes his bandages himself and heads out. While the vast majority of the population has been blinded by the meteor shower, there remain a handful of sighted people left to pick up the pieces of civilization.

Brendan points out several commonalities between this novel and the zombie/infected movie 28 Days Later (which I am due to rewatch at some point - my favorite part being the scrawl on the side of the church wall THE END IS INCREDIBLY FUCKING NIGH.) Nowhere is this more evident than in his initial venture into the all-but deserted London streets, save the blinded people trying to make their way around. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the similarities between the two were intentional.

Those expecting a traditional sci-fi yarn with the evil plant-monsters deliberately bent on world domination will be sorely disappointed. Triffids, rather than intentionally bringing about the end of human civilization, appear to just be taking advantage of the tragic blindness to befall the human population of the planet. Without the human caretakers to cut out the stings and tether the mobile triffids in place, they simply fill in the gaps that are naturally left for them. While they are malevolent, they are, as I said, not deliberately so. Because of this, they seemed a little bit neutered to me and not as effective as sci-fi monsters as they otherwise might have been.

Instead, what we get is what amounts to a character study in how people would respond to an apocalyptic event and how civilization would persist. Much of the human interaction proves that even in the face of a world-changing event with deadly moving plants on the loose, our worst enemy is still us. I found this an interesting take in what would otherwise have been a by-the-numbers monster novel, but I also found myself longing for a little bit of nasty monster vs. human action. I didn't feel like the book ever truly gave me that - rather, as I said, it just showed the triffids naturally taking advantage of our disadvantage, turning violent only when they had to.

I realized while I was reading this book that the 1981 BBC miniseries of The Day of the Triffids is streamable on Netflix. From everything I've read, it's a faithful adaptation of the book. I'll be streaming this very soon and may even report back on how it compares to the book. From everything I've read, the 1963 film adaptation that I was familiar with is apparently a bastardization of the book and one best avoided.

As an aside, this was the first book that I purchased as a Kindle edition from Amazon. I don't have a Kindle, but read this book about 50% on the iPad and 50% on my Droid phone, both of which have free Kindle apps. I enjoyed the Kindle eBook reading experience. However, publishers and Amazon need to get their shit together and not charge MORE for the Kindle version than the print version. The Day of the Triffids was something like 4 bucks, but I noticed that MANY Kindle versions are at least 2-3 dollars more expensive than their print counterparts. Amazing.

Just let it take you there

This song shuffled up tonight on my iPod on my walk home from work tonight and I'll be damned but I forgot how much I love it. It is Sheryl Lee Ralph's "In The Evening" from 1984, but the version I have on my iPod has been remixed by Almighty for a turn of the century audience, which is also the version featured in the video below.

I had completely forgotten how I even came to know this song, but a little investigation after I got home and, as Celine Dion would say, it's all coming back to me now. It was April of 2006 and we were in Chicago for a writer's conference of Heidi's. In a web surf session, I had run across a store called Borderline Music in Lakeview, which for those that don't know is the heart of Boystown. Perusing their web site, I knew right then and there that I simply HAD to get there. So Anna and I got in the car (she was 4 at the time) and drove pre-GPS from Deerfield into Boystown on the hunt for Borderline Music. Surprisingly, we did not get lost.

Anyway, we did find it and it was, as expected, a treasure trove for someone with the musical taste I have. It's priced a little bit high which you'd expect for an independent store and there are a shit-ton of crappy quality bootlegs there which made me feel like I was shopping in Iowa City in the mid 90s, but what I love most about it are the remix compilation discs you can't get anywhere else. It was on the 2CD 30-track set Ultimate Gay Anthems that I first heard Sheryl Lee Ralph's "In The Evening." Although I had picked it up for the "Love Eviction" remix and the Abbacadabra tracks (Yes, I know. Don't mock.), it was "In The Evening" that really stood out amongst a bunch of high-NRG dance covers of 80s and 90s tracks - not that there's anything wrong with them either.

The other CD that I remember picking up on that inaugural trip to Borderline also has a good story to it. Back in the Audiogalaxy days, I had downloaded a song called "Let The Night Take The Blame" by 501s. With a cheesy early 80s guitar riff combined with an even cheesier drum machine and synth track, it won my heart immediately.

Sadly, the version I downloaded was only a partial. It probably served me right, but I vowed that if I ever found it for sale anywhere, I would purchase it, regardless of what was on the rest of the album. Well, I found it on Gay Classics Vol 11: Hangin' Out. And, just as I promised I would, I bought it. Whether or not the rest of the songs are truly "gay classics" is up for debate, but it contained "Let The Night Take The Blame" in full, so I was happy for at least 8:07. As an added bonus, Heidi thought the album cover was cute, although I'm not sure "cute" is what they were aiming for.

I've been back to Borderline Music many times since then. Pretty much every time we hit Chicago, it's a required stop. As I said, it's pricey, so I can't always buy much. The last time I was there (for the Sticky & Sweet Tour), I only bought Madonna's Confessions book, the purchase of which got me a free Hard Candy album flat. I keep waiting for it to not be there each time I go to Chicago, but it's always there without fail, selling the best in the artists the gay community embraces. And even though it's probably not the height of coolness for a 38 year-old straight married father to be listening to this stuff, well, it makes me happy and I really don't give a fuck.

Life is short. As long as you're not hurting yourself or anyone else, do what makes you happy. No apologies.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

LDS (Latter Day Stevie): Street Angel

Last week at work, I was on a huge Stevie Nicks kick. I listened to her pretty much non-stop all day long, catapulting her up over a hundred plays this week on my page. I listened to almost everything of hers I had on my iPod, listening to 5 of her 6 solo albums, even playing Rock A Little twice. The only album I didn't manage to listen to was 1994's mess of an album, Street Angel.

When writing about Street Angel, I'm reminded of that scene in Straight Talk where Dolly Parton is talking to James Woods about the book he's writing. She asks him what his book is going to be about and he lists off this litany of awful things - corruption, greed, etc. She says to him "Why don't you write about something you love rather than something you hate?" That's kind of how I feel about this post, although "hate" really is too strong of a word for how I feel about Street Angel. Rather than hate it, I mostly feel sorry for it because contained therein are glimpses of what might have been. And really, if we don't look at our favorite artists honestly and recognize them as human, capable of making missteps, we're not doing them (or ourselves) any favors.

Five years had passed between The Other Side of the Mirror and Street Angel, and Stevie's life seemed to be a mess, although we didn't know the half of it at the time. There was a Fleetwood Mac album-of-sorts (Behind the Mask), her hasty departure from Fleetwood Mac in a fit of rage, a best-of album that had her singing songs written by Jon Bon Jovi and Bret Michaels and a few one-off soundtrack cuts from things like "Party of Five" and Boys on the Side. So to say it was a dry period for Stevie Nicks fans is putting it mildly.

I first heard of Street Angel through a fellow Stevie Nicks fan I met on the ISCABBS back in the spring of 1994. He lived in Boston and went by the online handle TheWildHeart. After talking online for several weeks, he offered to share with me a bunch of rare Stevie tracks with me. So I sent him a cassette tape and a couple weeks later, I got not one cassette tape full of Stevie rarities, but TWO. I still have those around here somewhere, although I managed to find most of those tracks on Napster & Audiogalaxy during the Wild West days of music on the internet. He had offered to send me tracks from the new album, but I chose not to have him send them. Rather, I decided to wait for the album. Those cassette tapes, along with Basia's The Sweetest Illusion, really define the last few weeks of that school year and as the semester wrapped up, I prepared to go back to my folks' house to work over the summer break.

A week or so after I arrived back home, I got a postcard in the mail (how, I'll never know!) that was a promo for Street Angel. It had this image of Stevie and I was horrified.

What happened? Where was the wonderfully curvaceous Stevie that I had come to know and love? She looked like death warmed over in this photo. I thought, surely her health must not be great. Stevie's weight had always yo-yo'd around a lot, but this was ridiculous! Still, I eagerly awaited the album, which came out the first week of June 1994 - right around my birthday.

Much like I did with The Other Side of the Mirror, I tried to talk myself into liking it. It's not hard to do when it's a long-awaited release by a what amounts to a core artist in your listening habits, but there was something niggling at the back of my brain. "This isn't that good..." it seemed to say. "Stevie really doesn't sound like she's even there." And as it turns out, it was true. When the album was in production, Stevie was back in rehab, AGAIN, this time trying to kick the Klonopin habit that had started with her finally and completely kicking of the cocaine habit in the late 80s. Stevie's songs and voice are pretty much the only thing authentically Stevie on the album. The production, the album art, everything else has the feel of something cobbled together by committee. I swear that given the opportunity, even with the limited technology of the day, I could have come up with a better album cover than what the record company did! What's contained in the album is nearly as amateur. There's an ill-advised cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" and an obtuse song about Jane Goodall. The production is very generic and blah - living up to neither the acoustic greatness of Bella Donna or the synthy-goodness of Rock A Little. As an album, it fails, completely and utterly.

But all is not lost. I've been listening to this album while I write this post and there are several good songs. Not surprisingly, many of them are songs written by Stevie for the first three albums and ultimately rejected for whatever reason. The first time I listened to the song "Greta" I had what basically was a deja vu moment - it sounded just like classic Stevie, complete with the spoken "Oooh, she's got a movie star view..." moment. Well, "Greta" was originally recorded for The Wild Heart - no wonder it sounds like 80s Stevie! The "Greta" demo from that time period is circulating on the internet and is astounding for both its similarities and differences to the version that eventually ended up on Street Angel. Lyrically, it's pretty much identical, but the 80s version is faster and has an 80s groove that is notably absent on the Street Angel version.

Another standout is one of my favorite Stevie tracks, "Blue Denim." (embedding disabled? Seriously!?) A classic Stevie rocker co-written with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, it kicks the album off in fine form and was even released as the second single. Even though Stevie does sound a bit bored through parts of it, singing the "blue grey eyes they change with the color" chorus in practically a monotone, there's a urgency in the song that even Stevie's Klonopin use couldn't douse. By the time we hit the last minute of the song and she wails "Yes I'm going away for a little while to remember how to feel!/And if I find the answer, I promise you/I'll come back and get you," you can just see Stevie on a concert stage, her chiffon dress billowing out as she twirls as only Stevie can. She hit the talk show circuit to promote "Blue Denim", appearing on David Letterman with a crimped hairdo and very overweight - so much so that upon viewing it, she vowed to retire unless she could lose weight.

An aside - Stevie has been criticized for her weight for the better part of 30 years, but the biggest problem for her is that ANY extra weight on her 5'2" frame is going to be noticeable. Someone like me that has the benefit of a 6'2" body has A LOT more places to put the extra weight, but Stevie's just not that lucky. And I never thought she looked bad during the Street Angel years, weight-wise. She certainly looked better than she did during the first Clinton inaugural. Combine that with seeing that shocking picture of her on that promo postcard, I was glad to see that she wasn't at death's door after all, although there's no doubt her weight at the time was not particularly healthy for her. During high school, I was always so worried about Stevie, that she would suffer a premature death from a drug overdose and I would be teased mercilessly by kids at school because I made no secret of my Stevie fandom. Fortunately, I never had to endure that and won't because the chances of her ODing are pretty much at zero these days.

But back to the music. Even lesser songs like "Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind" and the title track have aged better than they should have. But most of the rest of it is a forgettable train wreck. It's a train wreck like only Stevie can do it and because it's Stevie, it's still moderately listenable for me. As I said earlier, I have been listening to it while I write this post and at several points, I've had to stop and ask myself if I'm being too hard on it. Well, as a friend of mine said to me once, "Don't kid yourself, Dan. That album is ASS!" And yeah, for the most part it is. It is on par with The Other Side of the Mirror and doesn't hold up even remotely when compared to Bella Donna, The Wild Heart and Rock A Little. Clearly, when given a choice between the two, the cocaine was a better muse for Stevie than the Klonopin, although I'd prefer she had neither.

It wouldn't be until 2001 - seven years later - that we'd get another solo album from Stevie Nicks. Finally free of the grips of Klonopin and reinvigorated by a reunion with the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup, she produced an album that deserves a spot in the Stevie Nicks canon next to the triumphant first three albums, something Street Angel can't even come close to claiming. In fact, after listening to so much Street Angel this morning, let's all cleanse our palates with "Blue Lamp."

(part 2 in a three part series)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And pretend like you're having a good time!

In the tradition of XO's mixtape posts (often imitated, never duplicated)...

Heidi and Anna have made it a summer mission to collate all the photos we took from our westward vacation last summer and put them into some semblance of order. They've even been scrapbooking some of them - complete with text and cutesy little stickers and what not. Over the weekend they were working on the Grand Canyon page. It reminded me of how I heard more than one person say, right before they snapped a photo of someone, "now everyone pretend like you're having a good time!" It made me feel a bit bad, but honestly, it could have applied to us slightly that day as Anna was kind of crabtastic that day. Still, the canyon is amazing and one of many things that the pictures just don't adequately represent.

I made it through three 50+ hour work weeks relatively unscathed. I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep though, which is proving to be more difficult than I thought. To sleep through the night without waking up would be a blessing.

I am so stalled out on reading, it's pathetic. A 200 page novel should not take 4 weeks to complete! And it's not that it's not good, it's just that my priorities (and my focus) have been in other places. This week though, I'm going to finish at least two of the books in my to-be-read pile so that I can have some decent book blog posts next week. Or maybe even later this week. We'll see how it goes.

Everybody we know is getting married this fall. Well, maybe not everyone, but we have three weddings to attend between now and the end of the year. Our friends Jan & Sarah are getting married mid-September. A week later, Heidi's brother, Hans, is tying the knot with his long-time fiancee Alicia. And then on the last day of the year, my sister Wendy is getting married to her fiance Andrew at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (the place where I saw Evita not once but FOUR TIMES. It used to be a movie theater, but has been restored to its former glory.) We'll pray for no snowstorms for that one or, frankly, for any of them. Hurray for expanding families!

The blog roll got a its first new addition in a long time over the weekend - popsublime, written by my friend Jason. He doesn't blog often (about once a week), but when he does, it's a long and thoughtful entry that is amazingly well written - something that seems increasingly rare in the blogosphere these days. Plus, he and I are musically twinned. I'm always unduly excited by massive amounts of musical overlap!

We'll be hosting our friend Cate from Canada - a beta-reader for Heidi and LJ friend - for a couple weeks starting next Wednesday. Plans are being hatched to head to House on the Rock (a truly Midwestern experience) for one day of it, but other than that, no concrete plans exist that I know of, other than to just have a good time. We're eager for her to arrive.

It's haircut day for me today, and even though it's been eight weeks, I did not spend yesterday cursing my hair. It definitely needs it, but I think it's because she cut it SO SHORT the last time that eight weeks of growth just isn't what it used to be. I'm thinking of going a little longer this time as we're heading out of summer and I have an inkling to straighten it again the next time I go in. We'll see.

Speaking of summer, I'm over it. As I mentioned in my mowing rant from the other day, if it's not raining, it's humid and perfectly miserable outside. After the winter we had last year, I can only come to one conclusion: We're being forced to choose between, as Eddie Izzard would say, fantastically hot or fucking freezing.

But before summer ends, we have to make the annual pilgrimage to Adventureland in Des Moines. My work offers discount tickets which cuts the admission price nearly in half and, as Anna told me the other day "it's kind of a tradition that we go to Adventureland!" Adventureland, as I have said in a previous post, is like an old comfortable shirt that you pull out a couple times a year and know that it'll fit just right. Minor tweaks happen each year, but mostly, it's the same experience year after year which in this day and age, is very comforting. We'll see just how much I can ride this year or if I'd just be better off waiting in the car.

I don't get Robyn. I just don't. Revoke my pop chyldren membership card.

And with that, it's time to do bills and other fun life stuff. But here's us at the Grand Canyon last year, only kinda sorta pretending like we're having a good time. It was also my 37th birthday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stop the paternity test, #12,238

We took the hour and ten minute drive from Ames to Carroll to see my folks today. My sister Wendy and her fiance Andrew were in town as well, so it seemed like a good excuse to get out of Dodge and get a change of scenery. Heidi edited like a mad woman through most of the trip over, which left Anna and me to our own devices. We listened to Kylie's Aphrodite pretty much all the way through (started on "Illusion" and stopped just before "Illusion" started again. Seriously, "Illusion" is the hidden gem on the album.) I heard her singing along to pretty much every song - as I've said, she knows the lyrics better than I do. Once that was done, we threw Confessions on a Dance Floor on and listened to that. It was Stuart Price fest! I still remember her singing along to this album when she was in preschool, and she still knows the words now. As I so frequently say, stop the paternity test!

But the proof positive came when we stopped in Jefferson at Sparky's One Stop for a pit stop.

She saw the sign and said "Hey Dad! Look! It's Sparky's One Stop...candy shop."

My heart swelled with such pride. I may not be doing everything perfectly, but I'm certainly doing something right. I totally won the kid lottery.

Those clouds in the background of the photo were all across the sky today. It was gorgeous - a very Iowan mid-summer sky.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What mowing means

(this picture is not of my yard, just for the record)

I am nothing if not predictable - it's just about time for my annual mid-summer frustration boil-over with mowing the yard and pretty much everything that grows. So if you're not interested in that, I suggest you move on right now.

I went out to Target earlier this afternoon to go and print some digital photos from Heidi's recently found cell phone. While I was out, I noticed that the oppressive humidity we've had for the last week - the "air you wear" as we like to refer to it - had dissipated for the most part and on my way back, I thought "I really should mow the yard." Finding time to get the yard mowed this summer has required nothing less than planetary alignment between my work schedule and what seems like nearly constant rainfall and State Fair temperatures. And of course, said rainfall has left us looking like the Emerald Isle - the grass (and all the other plants in our yard) just won't FUCKING QUIT GROWING.

So when I got back, I put my headphones on and went out and started the mower. I put on a good playlist and got to work, but it wasn't five minutes before I was cursing like a sailor. For one thing, the mower smokes when I use it - I think because the oil-gas mixture I'm using is too rich, even though I followed the mixing directions to the letter. Also, since I can only get to the yard what seems like once a month, it's so tall that the mower constantly plugs up, which leads me to have to stop the mower and stick my hand inside of it and pull the wet, clumped up grass out and then restart it. Every two minutes, I'm doing this. No wonder it takes me so long to get it done. And then there was the humidity. As it turns out, it was still there. I wasn't even half done with the front yard and I had already sweat completely through my shirt and the sweat from my brow was running into my eyes. I used so many bad words, I was almost ashamed of myself. Almost.

As I have said on countless other occasions. I wouldn't mind keeping up the yard if I felt like it did one goddamn bit of good. I don't think it looks particularly good when I'm done with it. Mowing the back yard is like running an obstacle course between Anna's swing set, two bits of stump from a tree we had removed a couple years ago, and various vegetation we've planted. The front yard is something altogether different. Being shaded by a large old oak tree and several others, it actually has the opposite problem of the back yard. NOTHING grows up there. It still needs to be mowed, but you can't ever tell where you've been, so you end up going over the same territory over and over again. It wasn't so bad this time because there were so many leaves down from the storm last week, but still.

So the yard is a big exercise in frustration for me. As you might expect, it's not really the yard I'm mad at, despite my inclination to either set fire to it or to soak the sucker in Round-Up and kill every last piece of vegetation in sight. Mostly, I'm pissed at what the yard represents. My inability to keep the yard up in any sort of reasonable way is perhaps the biggest example of my failure as a homeowner. I feel like I'm missing the gene that is present in all the other suburban dads that spend their time out carefully pruning their shrubs or mowing every 3rd day. I don't care about it. I just fucking don't. And lacking that, what I really should do is hire someone to come and do it for me, but that's so not in the budget right now. So I persevere. I hate it, but I push through it and get it done. It's times like these that I miss the apartment days when someone else came and did all this stuff.

But as much as I say I don't care about, really, I do. I want it to look nice. I'm embarrassed to have people over because I hate how our back yard looks. There's a patch of weeds and thistles that has taken over the spot where the tree that we had taken out used to be. Despite my efforts to keep it cleaned up, it just grows back, usually with greater ferocity than it did before I cut it down. Weeds grow up from in between the cracks in the driveway. I try to keep up with it, but most of the time, it gets the best of me.

I'm so convinced that I have messy issues that I've conveniently wrapped up in being (literally) mad at the dirt. My hatred of the yard and its maintenance is not rational. This summer, admittedly, has been worse than others because I don't think I have worked the same shift two days in a row since May. I am also beyond exhausted from the summer (both physically and mentally) and just thinking about getting out there and doing it makes me tired. And I just fucking hate being hot and sweaty. There are times when being hot and sweaty has a pay off, but let me tell you how it's not when you're out doing yard work.

Ultimately, what makes it hardest is that I can't help but look at the yard and feel like I have failed at adult life somewhere. Outside summer projects taunt me in their chronic state of incompletion, but nothing gets me so much as the yard.

All in all, I need a bumper sticker for the mower that says "I'd rather be fucking snow blowing."

And that's what mowing is all about, Charlie Brown.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spare your seedy judgments

I started reading this book tonight called Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut. I think I'm the first person to check it out of the Ames library. I literally can't wait to do the review - I hope it stays as good as it has started out. It totally put me in the mood for Duran Duran, but all I had on my iPod was the Astronaut album, four tracks from Rio (including "Rio"), "Electric Barbarella" But it also contained what is perhaps my favorite of all Duran Duran songs - "Notorious" from 1986.

The video is, frustratingly, not embeddable (DAMN YOU SALAZAR!) Everybody knows it, but here's a refresher for those that have forgotten.

There are much better Duran Duran songs and certainly better known Duran Duran songs, but this is, as I said, still my favorite. Its position in the top spot for me stems more from association than any real merits of the song as it is from the time in my life when pop music really woke up in me. It was my freshman year of high school and that entire summer was spent down in the Sernett music department, flipping through vinyl albums and the limited supply of CDs that they had. I bought True Blue on vinyl that summer, along with many other purchases I later regretted. I listened to American Top 40 each week and wrote it down on a piece of looseleaf notebook paper as Casey Kasem made it from #40 to #1 each week. As summer turned to fall and I entered high school, I felt ready but also petrified. I felt that armed with my vast knowledge of pop music, I could not go wrong. Arriving at school in the fall, I realized that my choices were far from mainstream, despite the fact that they were on the radio all the time. Suddenly, my love for Madonna seemed awkward - the first of many such occurrences through my adolescence, even persisting into my early to mid 20s.

It seemed, even though I liked what Casey Kasem said was popular, that wasn't enough.

My biggest recollection of this song is seeing it on one of the many Friday night video shows in the fall of 1986. I had walked home from the Homecoming football game toting my tenor saxophone the mile from the stadium to my house. "Notorious" was playing and for some reason, it just clicked. It's such a vivid memory from that night and every time I hear the part at near the end when Simon LeBon lets out the "Yeaaaaaaah! That's why I've done it again!" it takes me back. It was then that I started to realize that, despite the fact that what liked wasn't the same as everyone else and the songs I did like were perceived as "girly," the songs made me feel good. They made me feel good and provided the necessary solace that I needed then and even now as an adult. It's the reason I keep going back to them and will continue to write about them.

I wish I can say that was a watershed moment where I stopped worrying about what other people thought. It wasn't. But it was still one of those moments.

The rest of the Notorious album is a bit hit and miss although "Skin Trade" is another standout. Astronaut is still my favorite studio album of theirs but "Notorious" will always be just a little bit special.

Ridin' the storm out

We awoke at 3AM today after our bedside lamps turned themselves on. A power surge from a HUGE severe thunderstorm was the culprit. After I shook off my sleep, I looked out the window and I couldn't see a thing. The rain was coming down in torrents and the wind was whipping branches around in a most dangerous fashion. Apparently, the heat and humidity from yesterday had led to the predictable summer storm, only this one meant business.

Amazingly, Anna was sleeping the sleep of the dead through this whole thing. We debated about going to the basement, but in the end decided to split the difference and sat in my first floor office which is just around the corner from the basement stairs in case we had to make a run for it. As we all gathered in my office, Heidi asks me "Did you put the car in the garage?"

Motherfuck. No, I didn't. Because I had not wanted to go out in my boxers and move the car before bed, I had locked it and left it outside. Man I was going to regret it now. Worst-case scenarios floated through my mind. I couldn't see the car, so I was sure there was a branch on it. Where was I going to get 10 grand for a new car? And what if a branch fell on the house? Ultimately, I had to take a step back and, as I have tried to teach myself to do, watch the rollercoaster go without getting in the front car without wearing a seat belt.

Well, Heidi was not too pleased with the fact that I'd left the car out, but turned me down flat when I offered to go out in the tempest and move the car to the garage. What was done was done and we would just have to make the best of it.

As it turns out, my decision to leave the car in the driveway was oddly prescient, because through the lightning, we saw a sight that in the light of day was much clearer.

A branch from a neighbor's tree had snapped and fallen from their yard and across our driveway. By some miracle of divine intervention (or whatever), it did not hit our house or damage any of our property, but if I had put the car in the garage, it would have been there for a while. (Update: The branch is gone. Our neighbor chopped it to bits with his chain saw that our driveway was at least passable. He rocks.)

There is a lot of damage in town this morning, and there are still people without power. To have suffered no appreciable property damage and to still have power makes me count my blessings.

My friend Matt (who lives down in Ankeny) was not so lucky - he awoke to this sight from his bathroom window.

As he so wittily put it, it was either from the storm or the Kool-Aid Man paid a visit.

We'll be cleaning up today. I hear the chainsaws going next door and I really should go lend a hand. It's what Iowans do.

(and as the post title suggests, I bought REO Speedwagon's "Ridin' The Storm Out" during the worst of it. While Heidi and I tweeted. Welcome to the 21st century storm experience.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Horsing around

We got up at the crack of dawn this morning to go out to the equestrian portion of the Iowa Games in which Anna was competing. The Iowa Games is, as the web site proclaims, the largest amateur sports festival in Iowa and for some reason, it is always in Ames. I always figured that having an athletic child would be the universe's revenge on me, but despite having more athletic ability in her little finger than I have in my whole body, she seems dedicated only to horses, eschewing most other sports. She has been taking riding lessons since she was in kindergarten. We've been through several different teachers - not because they were bad, but because of the transience that living in a college town will bring to your life. Her teacher over the last year has been Sara Edwards, who has just been fantastic for Anna. She took teaching Anna very seriously, teaching her tack and the essentials of horse maintenance as well as riding techniques. She didn't view this as just indulging a young girl's love of a horse. Sadly, she's leaving as well at the end of July.

She has accompanied Anna to three horse shows this year, all of which were in Ames and the last of which was today. Not only did the show land on the Saturday following a seemingly interminable 8-day-in-a-row stretch at work, but it was also the hottest, most humid day of the year. Even though we arrived at 7:15 AM today, it was already hot, headed for a high of 95 with heat indexes well into the 100s. Nevertheless, we persevered.

She competed at 8:00AM and 8:50AM and we endured the heat, humidity and blazing sun until around 10AM waiting for scores. When they hadn't resulted yet, we decided to blow the popsicle stand and go eat something. We were all hot, tired and crabby. So we hit Subway and with our blood glucose levels restored, we went back out and got her scores. While she did not place (they only award the top three finalists) I could not be prouder of her. It is no small feat to know how to control an animal like that, and she has about 1/3rd the mass I do. To me, she is amazing. I'm here to tell you I couldn't do that. Heidi and I were talking this morning about how she has this amazing amount of knowledge about horses of which we have virtually no concept. I imagine it isn't all that different from when I was taking piano as a kid and my parents were not able to help me at all - it was my thing, I had the knowledge and they didn't.

So once that was done, I headed into work for an hour to tie up some loose ends from the week and Heidi crashed on the couch. Not long after I returned home, I did the same thing. Anna heard that I was going to go sleep on the couch so she got it ready for me. Here's what I saw when I came in to sleep.

And yeah, I slept on the Princess blanket with the stuffed horse and unicorn surrounding me. How could I not?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let's get soaking wet!

We have spent a large amount of time at the pool this summer. It doesn't hurt that Ames just opened its Furman Aquatic Center this year, after promising to be open mid-summer last year, only to not open at all. Those who argued that Ames didn't need an aquatic center need only drive by the frequently filled parking lot and crowded pool complex to see that they were sorely mistaken. When we went on Memorial Day this year, there were lines for inner tubes, for the lazy river and all the slides. The initial fervor has died down some, but it's still well attended and a nice addition to Ames. Really, a city our size should have something like this.

Anna is at a perfect age for swimming. And unlike me at that age, she's actually pretty good at it and unafraid of the water for the most part. My mom frequently tells the stories of how, when I was a kid, they signed me up for swimming lessons and I would barely even get in the water. The beginning level of swimming lessons was called "Dunkers" and all you had to do to pass Dunkers was dunk your head under the water. No can do. So I flunked Dunkers. I think my folks grew so weary of my resistance that I don't really recall having swimming lessons much more after that. This is not so for Anna. She is forever saying "Dad, count how long I can stay underwater" or "Dad, count how many underwater somersaults I can do." She is like a little fish. She's not ready for the deep end by any stretch, but she's getting there.

The Furman Aquatic Center has something for everyone - a "pond" for the little kids which contains a play structure with slides and what not, topped by a big bucket that showers the kids with water at regular intervals. There's a 50 meter "lake" in which most of the action takes place. Lap lanes for swimming and basketball hoops for playing, it's where we end up spending most of our time. There's also a lazy river and several slides, as well as platform and springboard diving. They really did it right when they planned this. The only problem with it is that there's not enough parking by half on busy days, leaving those unlucky enough to get there when the lot's full to park at the high school and make a 10 minute walk to the pool.

Without fail, there is always drama at the pool of some sort. One day, we arrived just as the ambulance was pulling up to whisk someone away on the gurney after they had a seizure or something. Another night, Heidi and Anna went and two sisters were fighting so badly the pool staff had to break it up. Then there was the infamous night that they had to clear the pool because someone pooped in the pool. True to form, tonight someone barfed in the pond section, leading to its closure for 30 minutes. Fortunately, the chlorine level has been cranked up to "phosgene" so we're all good.

As you can probably guess, I've gotten over my fear of the water, although I never really learned to swim properly. My daughter can swim circles around me. It was just she and me tonight, and is is frequently the case when we do things just the two of us, it was tinged with just a titch of bittersweet. As she dove and did handstands and somersaults, I remembered how she used to wear her goggles, snorkel and fins in the tub. I should have known she'd take to water. I am also, as many of you know, acutely aware of the passage of time with this, my only child. Sometimes, the fact that I only get to do this once gets me down, but it makes me slow down and when I would otherwise dismiss her because I'm tired or busy or distracted, I stop and take the time. I enjoy the time with her that is going faster than I would like, but I know that the next phase will be something new and different. Someday the "Hey Dad, guess what?"s will stop and lead to inevitable moody adolescence. But my goal is to lay the groundwork now so that she trusts me enough to come to me when things get angsty later on. But she sang Kylie's "Get Outta My Way" at the top of her lungs on the way home tonight, so we'll just savor this moment.

In the meantime, we'll be in the pool, getting soaking wet.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hauntingly familiar

I'll admit to not being much of a Sarah McLachlan fan - I like some of her songs enough, but just have never really gotten into her albums. So it's not surprising that, while I knew she had a new album out, I hadn't paid much attention to it. But it appeared on the MP3 download page on Amazon as a recommendation for me today (apparently based upon my purchases of Mary Chapin Carpenter's The Age of Miracles and John Mayer's Battle Studies.) It was the first time I'd ever seen the album cover.

It's a nice looking album cover, but it was like I'd seen it somewhere before. I just couldn't figure out where. And then it dawned on me.

OK, Donna Summer is wearing markedly less than Sarah McLachlan, but the influence is there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #11 - The Seventies

We're officially halfway through the year, which means I'm officially behind on my quest to read and blog about 25 books this year. For those who may have forgotten, it was my resolution back in January to spend more time reading (and writing) and less time mindlessly surfing the net. So far, I've been pretty successful despite my being behind. I have read a lot of proofs for Dreamspinner that I haven't blogged about so in truth, I'm actually ahead. But what I blog about is where the rubber meets the road, so I have work to do.

I actually read The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics a while back, but just haven't blogged about it. I've read countless books about the 1970s - specifically the 1970s in America. It's one of the most fascinating periods of history to me. It was a time period during which I was alive, but not really aware. I remember some of these events like you would remember a conversation that was going on in the background of your life. You would think that after reading so many books on the 70s, it'd just be the same thing over and over again. While there's an element of truth to that, I am never bored by books on this topic (unless the writing is awful) because even though the events stay the same, each book has a slightly different take on it, each focusing on something different.

This book took an interesting approach to examining the 70s and in many ways, showed the parallels between that time and the time in which we are living now. Schulman's argument is that the main outcome of the 70s was to serve as a counterpoint to the 60s liberalism and the Great Society. With the economy tanking, the oil embargo and general dissatisfaction with what was perceived to be liberal elitism, the 70s actually represented a reversal in the misfortune of the Republican Party, despite some very visible failures in the early part of the decade. Even though 1976 brought about the election of a Democratic president, the seeds of a conservative revolution were sown in the discontent of the early-to-mid 70s, most surprisingly in a rather savvy way by Richard Nixon. It wasn't until the late 70s that the seeds bloomed under the leadership of Ronald Reagan and formed what seemed like a conservative majority in America.

It was during the chapter on tax revolts and railing against "big government" that I felt like I could have been reading a history of the last two years. So many of the things described in the book felt like they were lifted from a Tea Party rally. It made me think of that oft-repeated phrase "those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Hopefully we will learn from that history but I don't hold out much hope.

But as everyone knows, the 70s were not all about the rise of conservatism. There was hedonism aplenty - a hedonism that may have been directly related to the economic struggles that also define the period. There were chapters that focused on the rise of women's movement, especially how it related to readily available oral contraceptives which allowed women to take control of their reproductive cycle for the first time. The gay rights movement is also examined and surprisingly, the changing roles of men and the definition of masculinity were addressed in the chapter on the "battle of the sexes." Other touchstone events were also mentioned, but despite its title, I felt this was much more a political book than a comprehensive cultural history of the decade.

I enjoyed this book, but my favorite book on this subject is still It Seemed Like Nothing Happened which is probably due for a reread (but not now.)

It's called the Disco Maureen

I have been listening to WAY too much Maureen McGovern this morning. For most, any Maureen McGovern would be too much. I have only 3 songs of hers in my iTunes library and all of them are from either a movie or a TV show. Was she the precursor to Kenny Loggins? The world may never know. Anyway, my favorite of the songs I have is "Different Worlds" which served as the theme song to the 70s TV show Angie. I remember virtually nothing about the show, but I always loved the theme song. Here's the opening credits, just for shits and giggles. I especially love the "Love Boat"-ish way that the stars of the show are introduced, something that was ditched by the beginning of the abbreviated second season.

This song was actually a hit for McGovern in 1979, in a discofied version. I remember it being on a K-Tel 8-track that my folks had and I was forever trying to get to the spot on another program such that I could bump back to program 1 and listen to it. I don't remember how I came to have the mp3 (probably Napster, sorry folks), but you can now legally purchase it on iTunes. At 2:18, it always seemed too short to me, but then I came across the extended version on YouTube this morning. I'm not sure if it's legit as it sounds a bit amateurish, but still, it doubled the song's play time.

I'm always bugging Casey Stratton to record the theme from Maude for me (he just has to keep the funky 70s organ in there), but now I think I've found another for the 70s TV theme song covers project. Between these two and the theme from Alice, I think we're on to something.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Wrong number/right lover

True to form, all it took was for me to post my phone songs post and another one that would have rocketed into that top 8 suddenly appeared on my radar. My friend Jason read the post and it immediately reminded him of an obscure phone song from 1990 - Alisha's "Wrong Number." You can't find it anywhere for sale (digitally) on the entire internet. No iTunes, no AmazonMP3, no nothing. The only way you can purchase it is to go to Amazon and pay through the nose for the vinyl maxi-single (or, alternately, pay slightly less for the cassingle.) But for that price, you could hear all about how Alisha thinks she's calling her friend but somehow or another has dialed the wrong number and gets connected to a sexy sounding guy's answering machine. She's overcome with lust which leads her to sing "I've got the wrong number but my heart keeps telling me/I've got the right lover now."

I have to admit that I had never heard of this song before - I wonder how it charted or if it even charted? Well, all I know is that if I had known this song existed in 1990, I would have been all over it, played on continual repeat on my Walkman while I roamed the Iowa State campus. Sounding a lot like another one-named artist of the same time period that's been mentioned on these pages a couple of times, it would have been impossible for me to ignore it. AND it's a phone song so by default, it's worth at least one listen. What's even better is that it's full of phone sounds, be it phones ringing, dial tones, the "hang-up-now-or-else" sound that will more than likely be a thing of the past before too much longer.

It would be easy to dismiss "Wrong Number" as pop fluff, and well, it IS pop fluff, but it's not like that's a bad thing. As was posted by MrDiscoPop this morning, writing an effective pop song is not nearly as easy as some people think. There are so many that don't work, that when one does (and I would argue that "Wrong Number" works), it hits that spot that causes you to just keep repeating the song over and over again. Don't punish a song because it has slick production and no weighty social issue as its topic. Sometimes, we just need to let go, and for most, that needs to happen more often than it does.

I've gone on record as saying that this has been the best summer for music in so long. Songs like this, while not current, add to the fabric of the summer and fit in just as well as Kylie and Scissor Sisters and Goldfrapp. I only wish I could find a YouTube clip of "Wrong Number" - it's so worthy and no one has done it! I would post a link to the mp3 but I'm so not interested in getting my almost 7 year old blog shut down over it!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The (non)appendicitis was (not) rumbling

You might have seen me tweet on Sunday that I had been suffering from abdominal pain of unknown origin for 3 or 4 days. It was a most bizarre type for I could never pin it down to one place. Sometimes it was my right lower quadrant, sometimes it was my left flank. The one constant about it was that it was a dull ache that I just couldn't characterize as anything I'd ever felt before. My general rule of thumb is that if pain stays in one place, worry about it. If not, it's not likely to be serious.

Despite this rule of thumb, those of you that know me well know what happened next. In my grand tradition, I diagnosed myself with everything from appendicitis to ulcerative colitis to colon cancer. I swear, I am worse than the internet when it comes to turning relatively benign symptoms into something that could potentially be fatal. I don't consciously try to do it - it just happens. It comes from years of programming and my hard-wired anxious brain and my vast amount of medical knowledge that I have by virtue of my profession. The key to that last part is that, while I may have a lot of specific medical knowledge, I'm not a doctor so diagnosing is NOT my forte.

So here I was, a highly trained medical professional self-diagnosing on Wikipedia the other night. The pain was so highly localized to my right lower quadrant on Sunday night that I was certain I would be having an emergency appendectomy on Monday. For the record, my appendix is still in there and still vestigial. Even though my pain was never really acute enough for appendicitis and I had no other symptoms of it (no fever, no gastritis, no vomiting) I was convinced of it. When I stumbled across "rumbling appendicitis" - a chronic inflammation of the appendix that has milder symptoms - I figured that was my diagnosis, because, yeah, 4 days is chronic. Ish.

Clearly, I need to get a grip, and in the time that has passed I've found that grip. My pain has subsided a lot and I think it has a lot to do with the amount of pop I drink. So, much like Mary, my pop drinking days may be coming to an end.

After I work through the initial freak out, I can laugh at all this for the ridiculousness that it is - hence this post. There's a lady I work with who I have a long-standing joke with regarding my "latest diagnosis." I find that saying it out loud really helps me to realize how amazingly whacked and not based in reality those kinds of emotions and thoughts are. Inside my head, they are perfectly rational. But once you tell someone you have "rumbling appendicits" and you laugh uproariously over it, it's hard to take it, or yourself, too seriously.

Parallels along the spectrum

I came across this article buried at the bottom of the Google News home page (which, incidentally, am I the only one that really dislikes the new layout?) Given Heidi's and my interest in gay issues, it caught my attention.

The Last Person Out of the Closet: The Bisexual Male

The article made think of two things - one addressed and one, oddly, not.

1) If the struggle for gay rights really is the civil rights issue of our time, the parallels between being bisexual and multiracial really are appropriate and one I had not thought of before. While I feel that the stigma of being multiracial has lessened since the early to mid 20th century if not evaporated altogether, I think it will be a while before those people who identify as bisexual are not perceived by society at large as being on a train - next stop, Gayville. I think human sexuality is so much more complicated and bigger than our paltry labels.

2) I maintain that the biggest objections to homosexuality in our society stem from how it has turned the traditional concept of masculinity on its ear. How a guy like me that is not interested in sports or cars or many of the "traditional" guy things can be straight yet a big burly trucker interested in those things can be gay messes with our collective heads. This is ultimately a good thing as it causes us to see things through a different lens. The fact that the article does not mention bisexual women only solidifies this in my head. That is not to say that bisexual women don't face similar hardships, but rather that the underlying masculinity issue as it pertains to gay rights is the rather large elephant in the room.