Friday, March 31, 2006

Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Inspired by a top five list at Pop Culture Is My Curse. Note--I am not implying that these are the best series of all time. I have never seen, for example, an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, so it would be clearly silly of me to pretend to do so. On top of that, there are series that I have seen a healthy piece of, like All in the Family, that I would say are better than some on my list--but they just don't hit my happy button as well as the ten below. So--these are my favorites.

10. Seinfeld--Possibly the most consistently funny sitcom I've ever seen. And a good decade in, it's holding up marvelously.

9. Scrubs--Just finished the second season, and the show's ability to meld absolute, off-the-chart's goofiness (dozens of people doing the Rerun dance in Rerun garb--with Rerun?) and real, powerful emotional drama is astonishing. It flat out shouldn't work.

8. Chicago Hope--That first Mandy-riffic season was brilliant--mixing a remarkable performance of a man slowly losing his mind over an entire season with compelling medical stories. I love the everyday reality of ER, but setting Chicago Hope in an elite hospital, and making its lead character the nation's most brilliant surgeon, opened up whole storytelling avenues. The single show I am most hoping for on DVD.

7. Roseanne--The first sitcom to completely nail what family life is like for lower-middle class people in America. And John Goodman puts in what I'd say is one of the top ten all-time performances as Dan.

6. The Sopranos--A show that showed us what heights (and depths) television could go to with the shackles of network standards removed. A wonderful use of the long-term format series television can provide to really give us a complex, detailed, and epic story about a criminal and his family.

5. Gilmore Girls--The oft-discussed fast-talk is really just a stellar stylistic device--like the singing in musicals. It's not supposed to be "real," it's supposed to be a convention that tells us things about the characters we mightn't otherwise know.

4. Lost--I've been hooked like I've almost never been hooked before. The structure (the use of extended flashbacks in each episode, the slow movement of time) is brilliant, especially in hindsight. A show that at first blushed seemed destined for a short run could run for years. And the mix of human drama, teasing mysteries, and unpredictability is gold. A great, great show.

3. Once and Again--See here. The best family TV drama, and the best filmed treatment of divorce, I've ever seen.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer--An inspired mix of teen drama, soapiness, superhero tropes, horror tropes, and long-form structure. I never saw the show on TV but have seen the whole run on DVD--and am itching to start all over again.

1. The Simpsons--The pinnacle. Built to last forever (and it just might) the single source of more laughs than any other piece of entertainment I've ever been exposed to.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "The Fly" - U2 - Achtung Baby
A song that just grows on me more and more over the years. I can still vividly remember being excited to hear this, the first new U2 song in a few years, as a senior in high school, and how taken aback I was by the sound and style, so different from the late 80s stuff I had fallen in love with. It didn't take long for me to acclimate to the song though. Now, it sounds positively old-school.

2. "One Wonderful Night" - Stephen Sondheim - Saturday Night (2002 Off-Broadway Revival Cast)
Sondheim, in his first full musical, writing in a traditional Broadway sound he'd never really produce again.

3. "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'" - Living Colour - Biscuits
A cover of the James Brown song by the underrated hard rock band. Few rock bands can authentically mix funk and real hard rock like these guys could.

4. "Hide and Seek" - John Williams - A.I. (Film Score)
A soft, playful, and somewhat haunting cut from one of Williams' best, and most underrated, scores.

5. "My Heart Is So Full of You" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast Recording)
Operatic duet from one of Broadway's most lush, full-bodied scores.

6. "Pray - Reprise" - Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - Once on this Island (Original Broadway Cast)
Caribbean-flavored Broadway melodies.

7. "It's All the Same" - Mitch Wasserman and Leigh - Man of La Mancha (2002 Broadway Revival Cast Recording)
A lusty showcase of a song, with steamy, indolent guitars and Mary Louis Mastrontonio delivering a surprisingly credible vocal given the infamous vocal difficulty of the role of Aldonza.

8. "This Is Halloween" - Danny Elfman - The Nightmare before Christmas (Film Score)
A great, great opening number from one of the best Hollywood musicals of what - the last twenty-five years?

9. "Mountain Duet" - Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus - Chess (1996 London Concept Cast)
The pre-progenitor of the pop-opera musical. The Abba guys really wrote a great score here, full of big, sweeping melodies and some impressively intricate and fun instrumentals. This duet does a fine job of taking big, belty melodies and imbuing them with a real sense of melancholy.

10. "As If We Never Said Goodbye" - Andrew Lloyd Weber (sung by Betty Buckley) - Betty Buckley: An Evening at Carnegie Hall
Buckley singing a ballad seemingly tailor-made for her strong, big voice. When she lets loose on those big notes - "I've come home at last" - singer and song kind of fuse.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


For a good larf, check out this entry on USA Today's very decent pop culture blog, Pop Candy. Whitney Matheson, the blogger, asked "psychic" Char Margolis, who is promoting some inane Sci-Fi series in which she travels the country giving "readings," to give her a cold reading over the phone. Matheson gives us the transcript, and the hackery evident is hilarious:

Margolis: "Is there somebody who's an 'M'?"
Matheson: "Yes"

Who doesn't know someone who "is an M?"


For fun, I, in my head, played along as I read the transcript and, as if just to prove how ridiculous the "reading" was, Margolis actually correctly identified the name of my grandmother--just as she had Matheson's!!!


Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

'Tis a Virtue

Three episodes in, and I'm liking HBO's new polygamy show, Big Love, more and more. Sure, it's creepy as all get-out, the notion of multiple wives being just strange and kind of, well, icky, but that world, the world of men and women who view this as the preferred way to commit to life-long relationships, is very alien, and therefore, fascinating to get a glimpse into. As much as I love The Sopranos, we've all seen the "world of the Mafia" before--the show isn't brilliant because it's making us privy to a whole new world, but for myriad other reasons. The world, or worlds (the fundamentalist polygamists on their compound and with their prairie garb versus the more modern polygamists embodied by our main characters being a key conflict within the series), of Big Love, on the other hand, are all-new, at least to this observer.

That being said, I've read a lot of criticism of the show that focuses on the fact that we don't know a lot about these people--why would the senior wife, who was brought up as a traditional Mormon, consent to these multiple marriages? Why was the youngest wife so eager to enter this kind of relationship? Why was the middle wife, who seems to have such strong ties to the fundamentalists, be happy "off the compound?" And so on.

These criticisms puzzle me in that we are only three episodes in. All of these questions, and many others that arise in watching the show, are clearly intended to be mysteries the show will, presumably, get around to answering later. Why we should have all of these answers three episodes in is kind of beyond me. Patience. Yep; you got it. A virtue.

Until Whenever
Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Musicals

10. Evita - Lloyd Weber's best and most dramatically and musically sophisticated work, Evita is very overdue for a major revival. The problem, and it's one faced by several of the shows on this list, is that its original staging, here by Hal Prince, is legendary, and firmly ensconced in the theatrical imagination. And yet like any play, to be truly successful for future generations and in future productions, to be truly artistically interesting, it must be reinterpreted by new directors, new designers, new artists. Only through successive new and different interpretations--whether successes or failures--can a play truly become cemented as a classic. At some point, hopefully, a daring producer will take a chance on an Evita that owes nothing to Prince's original staging--and from there, again hopefully, the ball can start rolling. All that said, this is a fine, fine play, with two stellar, wonderfully written, and challenging roles at its center. And Weber's gambit of employing distinct musical styles for different types of scenes (Latin-influenced music for the plot scenes and a more modern style for the Che-led more theatrical scenes) pays off in spades.

9. Cabaret - Cabaret has successfully overcome the problem listed above. The late 90s Broadway revival was new, creative, and owed nothing to the original, and it amply showed that Cabaret was a play that was standing the test of time. A great example of a "serious" musical that still delivers real entertainment through a great, almost traditional, score.

8. Carousel - Carousel never had a "defining" production to overcome. Still, the mid-90s revival showed very clearly what a creative director could do with the material. This is Rodgers & Hammerstein's finest score, with dark tones that modern directors can really dig into.

7. Follies - Sondheim's towering score, a brilliant combination of pastiche and perfectly realized character songs, all in the service of what is really a sad story about the inevitability of aging and how we become different people as we get older. Still waiting for that definitive production, the piece has already shown it can offer new insights through a host of presentations.

6. Man of La Mancha - The pervasive success of the show's signature song, "The Impossible Dream," has given the show itself a whiff of cheese. 'Tis a pity. "The Impossible Dream" stands with The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as prime examples of misunderstood songs. Hundreds of lounge singers, benefit singers, cabaret singers, and talent show singers have sung the song as if it were a simple paean to trying harder--as if the song's message were "try hard and your dreams can come true!" It's not. The song's message is darker and more complex, and when sung right, it can be immensely powerful. The song's -and the play's - real message is that hope is powerful, not because hopes can come true but, almost paradoxically, when they can't. The song and play tell us that when your dreams will not come true, when a happy ending is not possible at all, hope for one in spite of the facts can be a remarkably powerful agent. A strong, and for some unfathomable, message.

5. Fiddler on the Roof - The play has been done in hundreds of countries by hundreds of different cultures, and the commonality of all is that in every culture, when the play is produced, the audience wonders how it could be so specifically about them. Bock and Harnick tell a story about the first Japanese production, and how the director was astonished that the two men had written such a Japanese story. That is the key to this play's power.

4. West Side Story - See number ten above. No musical in the canon in as desperately in need of a new, fresh approach as this one. The score is beyond reproach and the story universal and timeless. But until someone abandons Jerome Robbins (admittedly wonderful) original staging and choreography, this brilliant play will continue to get staler and staler.

3. My Fair Lady - The perfect marriage of songs and story, with one of the great male-female roles in the canon. I'm still waiting for a Henry Higgins who will abandon the Rex Harrison approach and sing the entire score, and well. Some of those Higgins songs are beautiful.

2. Gypsy - Mama Rose is probably the greatest female role ever written for a musical, and many a great actress has dug her teeth into it. This play gets revived, and well, consistently precisely because it's so well-constructed, and because the role of Mama Rose is such a great one. And Jule Styne's score is a masterpiece, and easily the highlight of his career. And for a bonus? The greatest overture ever.

1. Sweeney Todd - The pinnacle of the form, and Sondheim's masterpiece. Boldly theatrical, with soaring, dark melodies, great choral pieces, a twisty, compelling, blackly humorous story, and big, bold, melodramatic drama, all mixed to perfection. And, as the current, and wildly enthusiastically received, Broadway revival is demonstrating, wonderfully open to reimagining. The greatest musical ever written.

Until Whenever

On this morning's The Today Show, Campbell Brown was starting an dual interview with Lou Dobbs and some woman whose name I did not catch on the immigration issue. Brown started with Dobbs , leading into the interview by trying to give us a flavor for how intense he has been on the issue. To do so, she said, "You have literally had smoke coming out of you ears when discussing this issue." I'm paraphrasing, but not the "literally" part.

Shouldn't a news anchor on the highest-rated morning news show in the country, especially one who has hopes of being named to the top spot soon, not be so careless? Am I being a stickler for wanting the media to know that Dobbs most certainly hasn't ever literally had smoke coming out of his ears? I don't think I am.


Until Whenever

Monday, March 27, 2006

The U2 Canon - Pop

Pop is kind of the litmus test for U2 fans. While there certainly are fans, and a healthy number of them, who thought Achtung Baby was a bizarre step in a wrong direction, and who more or less discount anything by the band post-1990, for most fans the new musical directions Achtung Baby took the band in are appreciated.

And then there's Pop. A huge number of U2 fans consider Pop to be U2's big mistake, an ego-fueled, too-hip-for-the-room, mess of an album that saw the band far, far afield of what they do best. These fans see 2001's All that You Can't Leave Behind as a triumphant return to form, and in part as a kind of apology for the techno-driven garbage that was Pop.

I am not one of those fans. to me, Pop is a brilliant example of a band trying new and exciting sounds while at the same time remaining exactly who they are. It took a few listens, but when Pop first came out I was able to hear the "U2" within the experiments, within the new beats, and electronic noise, and feedback. To me, Pop is like Achtung Baby only more so. An attempt to grow as a band, and to embrace new ideas, while never losing the identifiable sound and musical drive that identifies virtually all U2 songs as U2 songs. To me, Pop is a great album--and quite possibly their most significant release after the monuments of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.

1. "Discotheque" - Much like Achtung Baby led off with a song that made no bones about the new musical worlds the album would be exploring, so does Pop. "Discotheque" begins with a slow, fade-up, buzzsaw intro grounded by a low, almost sinister bass line. But when the drums kick in, the dance origins of the song's sound become clearly apparent. And yet, after a few listens, the essential "U2-ness" of the song becomes readily apparent. Just listen to the bridge, with its echoing guitar lines and Bono beseeching in falsetto - this is U2, make no mistake.

2. "Do You Feel Loved" - A great forgotten U2 track, with a killer, syncopated riff from the Edge providing a skeleton for Adam to hang a fairly muscular bass line on. Pop sees Bono in probably the worst vocal shape of his mature career (presumably left over damage from the lengthy Achtung Baby-Zooropa tours and a lack of respect for the damage cigarettes can do to vocal cords), and this track suffers some for it--one can imagine what a more full-throated Bono could do with the classic-U2 worthy high refrain of "Do you feel loved?" Still, the raw quality his voice features throughout the album brings its own benefits, even if they don't outweigh the strengths a healthy Bono could have brought to the song.

3. "Mofo" - Of all the album's tracks, this is probably the most defiantly "non-U2ish." A double-tracked Larry lays down a frenzied, paranoid beat that leads into an absolutely killer of an electronic bass line (whether or not Adam actually plays this line I don't know--live he certainly didn't), which in turn leads into a guitar riff from the Edge that is, in his words, like an "airplane taking off from the runway." The body of the song features a talk-singing Bono, some strange, voice box-muddled periodic interjections from the Edge ("Bring around front, bring around back") and some absolutely passionate mothers. The tense bridge, in which Bono pleads with his dead mother, is some of the band's most astonishing work, ever.

4. "If God Will Send His Angels" - A quiet, weary ballad that makes its forbearer "One" sound positively cheery. Bono infuses the opening lines with a wonderful sense of fatigue and defeat--and, in a neat trick, the Edge does the same thing with some of the guitar riffs. In the end, the music behind this song is slightly less than inspired, but it's a fine track nonetheless, and lyrically wonderful. Overall, Pop features some of Bono's most inspired lyrics. He resorts to cliche less than he sometimes can, and nails some wonderfully specific and evocative lines'' here, for example, "Jesus never let me down/You know, Jesus used to show me the score/Then they put Jesus in show business/Now it's hard to get in the door." And the religious imagery and themes are less inspiring than they usually are with U2, more towards the side of doubt than faith (although it bears repeating that U2 has always treated religion with a healthy mix of faith and questioning).

5. "Staring at the Sun" - A very solid, Beatles-esque song, with some great lyrics, done in by an arrangement that buries the song's simple strengths--as the live acoustic version revealed.

6. "Last Night on Earth" - The lesser of two more overt rockers that follow after the more experimental opening tracks. Not a bad song, but it does give off a whiff of "boilerplate U2."

7. "Gone" - This is the second, much stronger rocker, with some great, if rough around the edges, singing by Bono. Subtle piano work adds some nice variety and texture to the song, but it's in the wailing, by Bono and the Edge, in the choruses that really make this one. Great on disc, but a real classic live.

8. "Miami" - A kind of experimental rap/travelogue of a band visit to the titular city. A song I never really come back to.

9. "The Playboy Mansion" - A fun, loping, almost country-esque bit of what I think might be an attempt at trip-hop" Kind of a throwaway, but a wonderfully relaxed, smooth one.

10. "If You Wear that Velvet Dress" - A slow burn of a ballad, with Bono singing lower than he ever has in a completely successful attempt to inject a bit of danger and sex into his voice. Quiet and kind of off-handedly erotic.

11. "Please" - In my opinion, humble or otherwise, U2's second-most impressive song. The drum work by Larry is inspired, jazzy and tight, and Adam's bass line does a great job of twisting along with that beat. And Bono puts forth an all-time great vocal performance, singing the "Please" refrain with the perfect mixture of anger, hurt, and defeatism. This song inspired Elvis Costello to reassess his opinion of U2, and he's sung it live on at least one occasion. Just a wonderful song, from the performances, to the lyrics, to the structure, to that sad and angry melody.

12. "Wake Up Dead Man" - A bleak ending for an album infused with tired anger and resignation. The theme of religious doubt comes to a head here--U2 may have never sounded so unlike a purportedly "Christian" band than they do here. Over a simple guitar figure and some ominous background noise that sounds like static on a radio, Bono sings:

Jesus, Jesus help me
I'm, alone in this world
And a fucked up world it is too.
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it's all gonna be.
Wake up.
Wake up, dead man.
Wake up.
Wake up, dead man.

Chilling, and perfectly executed.

If, by chance, you are one of those U2 fans who gave the album a few listens and never returned to it, I can't recommend going back enough. There are real riches here.

Until Whenever

Friday, March 24, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "'How de saucer stan' now, my sister?'" - George Gershwin - Porgy and Bess
Probably my second-favorite opera, after Britten's Peter Grimes.

2. "Can You Be True" - Elvis Costello - North
Elvis writing some low-key, reflective songs in the style of the greats. Hard to think of someone who can rock as well as Elvis and sing this kind of music so well.

3. "Finale" - Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman - The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast)
The very happy ending.

4. "Foolproof" - Thomas Newman - Finding Nemo (Film Score)
A very short 60s-style, funky bass-led, spy-sounding piece.

5. "Remembering Petticoat Lane" - John Williams - Jurassic Park (Film Score)
A quiet, reflective track from an underrated Williams score.

6. "Cars and Cars" - Paul Simon - Hearts and Bones
An odd song, and not a favorite. "Cars are cars," Simon sings, over and over, over a half-assed stuttering bass-led figure.

7. "I Can Give You Anything But Love" - Louis Armstrong - The Essential Louis Armstrong
An early recording, soft and swinging--the kind of thing you might hear on the radio in a Tom and Jerry short.

8. "Holy Thursday" - William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and Experience
I just got this and haven't delved into its three disc-length much yet. Very interesting classical piece, though, with styles ranging like crazy. This has an old-English, carol-like feel to it.

9. "Morphine Tango" - John Kander and Fred Ebb - Kiss of the Spider Woman (Original Broadway Cast)
A dream-sequence like number, with the main character hallucinating while under the influence of, yes, morphine.

10. "So Many People" - Stephen Sondheim - Saturday Night (2000 Off-Broadway Cast)
A very early Sondheim love ballad from his first, but unproduced-for-several decades, musical. Simpler and sweeter than most of the music he would later become famous for.

Until Whenever

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Sondheim Songs

10. "Losing My Mind" - Best version? Barbara Cook in the 1985 Lincoln Center concert.

9. "A Weekend in the Country" - The most complete, utterly perfect musicalized scene I've ever heard. Remarkable lyric writing here--the lyrics scan perfectly, and yet could read as dialogue.

8. "Ballad of Booth" - I love that Sondheim hands one of his most gorgeously beautiful melodies to Lincoln's assassin. His anguished aria in the middle of this song almost makes you wish the South had won.

7. "Not a Day Goes By" - One of the few Sondheim songs one can imagine hearing on American Idol. That it can be sung as an ode to passionate love or heartbreaking loss is testimony to its genius.

6. "Finishing the Hat" - A more open and beautiful accounting of what it means to be an artist has never been put to music.

5. "Loving You" - Another love song that can be sad or happy, depending on the context. One of Sondheim's purest melodies.

4. "Being Alive" - An almost frightened declaration that loving another human is very, very hard and very, very necessary.

3. "Sunday" - The best choral writing he's ever done. Why more high school choirs aren't doing this is beyond me.

2. "Epiphany" - A man loses his mind in song. Intense and gripping.

1. "No More" - A father and son admit their failures to one another in the middle of a fairy tale.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Buried Beauties - Ginnifer Goodwin

Fondly remembered as the teenaged Dianne on NBC's Ed, Ginnifer is all growed up now and the youngest of three wives on HBO's polygamy show Big Love. That rare example of a young Hollywood actress we are supposed to find attractive even though she's not painfully skinny. A club that can always use more members.

Until Whenever

The Inevitable Porno Rip-Off Won't Even Have to Change the Title

I don't get HBO. Because I'm cheap. But due to some strange effect--not because I steal it, I'll have you know--the signal comes through pretty strongly; the picture is fuzzy, but not that fuzzy. And so it is that I'm, for the first time, watching The Sopranos in real-time. (I've seen every other season on DVD.)

Since I was taping The Sopranos anyway, I decided to grab Big Love, the new HBO series, about a polygamous family in Utah, as well. And you know what? I just may be hooked.

Odd that Big Love, which is about a man with three wives who is relatively good to all of them, creeps me out more than The Sopranos, which is about a man who kills and steals and has shown himself to be a bit of a bastard to his family. And yet it does. This doesn't mean it's a bad show--it's compelling and intriguing so far--but it does mean that sexual politics hold immense sway over us (or me at any rate), much more so than the politics of violence.

The show has done a good job of contrasting the fundamentalist version of polygamy, with teen brides and old men with dozens of wives, and people living simply in prairie garb on a compound, with what I guess is the more modern version, the modern successful business owner in the suburbs with three wives (even if that family is really the focus of the show). In only two episodes, the various dynamics between the four leads, between the wives and the husband and between the wives themselves, have been interestingly dealt with. The show is doing a good job so far of presenting polygamy, not in a sensationalist or tawdry manner, but as a real choice that people make and a way of living they embrace, at the same time without exactly endorsing it either. The cast is great--especially Ginnifer Goodwin as Margie, the youngest bride, and Harry Dean Stanton as the leader of the fundamentalist group. I'm very, very curious to see how the show plays out over this first season.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Stephen King Novels

10. The Long Walk--This early Bachman book contains one of King's most inspired "high concepts"--in the near future young men compete in a walking race with a simple, horrific structure. 100 racers, no stopping allowed, no running allowed. Stopping (even to admit to nature's calls) or slowing or speeding too much merits a warning. An hour of no warnings eliminates one. Accumulate three warnings and the men in jeeps following the racers shoot you dead. Last racer alive wins a huge prize. This reality-TV foreseeing book came out in the early 80s, and its impressive not just for the elegant concept, but in how well King etches what such a race would be like for the participants, in how the racers personalities would change as the days of the race wear on.

9. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three--The first Dark Tower book was really a prologue. Here King really starts to get involved in the tale and the characters, and the neat structure of the book, with Roland gathering his new gunslingers, disciplined King into a tighter form than usual.

8. Misery--That rare, supernatural-free King tale, a tightly plotted and not over-long look at the degree to which fans can feel they "own" characters. Another book in which a simple, elegant concept gives rise to some of King's best writing. Annie Bates is one of King's most indelible characters.

7. Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption--This short novel is one of King's most elegant creations, wonderfully told in the first person from Red's point of view. The period details and the prison details add up to something more than the sum of their wholes here.

6. Bag of Bones--King getting a bit shaggy again, and maybe worth some cuts here and there, but in this ghost story King created some of his most compelling characters, and took a look at writer's block that was wonderful for both its eerieness and mundane qualities.

5. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass--King, seeming to almost be intentionally trying to piss off fans of the series, stops right in the middle of his long Dark Tower tale to tell a long flash-back story of young Roland's first love. And dammed if he doesn't pull it off in spades. This is King trying his hand at opera, at a big, tragic young love story, and he completely nails it.

4. The Shining--Only his third published novel. Amazing. One of the twentieth century's best ghost stories and a definitely not-shabby psychiological study as well. Scary as all get-out and featuring finely etched characters.

3. The Green Mile--This book was originally published in serial form, in short chapbook-style installments. King really seems to find a groove in prison stories. This book features probably King's best ending yet.

2. The Stand--As much as some of King's best books are his most disciplined, when he's on target and focused he can do long epic material with the best of them. The Stand needs its 1,000+ page length to properly tell its story of a killer flu nearly wiping out the human race and the few survivors' epic battle. Grand, big-stage storytelling that uses its canvas to perfection.

1. It--I'm pretty sure I've read 1,100-page book at least five times, it could easily be six, and I plan on reading it again. Again, King's story here needs the scale, what with the dual stories of the main characters', as kids and adults. The intermission stuff with the librarian character chronicling the town's history is necessary as well, invaluable for the texture and sense of time and place it gives. This is really, more so than The Stand to me, King's signature work, especially with its overtly horror slant and its intense focus on children. Just a remarkable, rich, rewarding book.

Until Whenever

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Teachout Quiz

Saw this here and here:

What time did you get up this morning?
6:30, as is the case with most mornings.

Diamonds or pearls?
Diamonds. Sparkly, dontcha know.

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Curious George, for the twins' first theater-going experience. They did quite well, actually.

What is your favorite TV show?

What did you have for breakfast?

What is your middle name?

What is your favorite cuisine?
Hm. I like pretty much all cuisines I've tried, or at least good chunks of them, but overall I'd have to say Italian is hard to beat.

What food do you dislike?
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Cooked carrots are horrible. Raw? Fine and dandy. Odd, that.

What is your favorite potato chip?
Those greasy and thick New York Deli ones.

What is your favorite CD at the moment?
At the moment I'm developing a major crush on Aimee Mann, through her Magnolia and The Forgotten Arm CDs. Poppy goodness.

What kind of car do you drive?
The most common car in America--a beige Toyota Camry.

Favorite sandwich?
Rare roast beef on a hard crusty role with a good American cheese, liberal amounts of mayo, and salt and pepper. Sigh.

What characteristics do you despise?
Hypocricy. Self-righteousness.

What are your favorite clothes?
None, really. Well, I do have a Captain America tee shirt I'm quite fond of.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
Spain in the summer. European culture with stellar food and the weather I love.

What color is your bathroom?
Would you believe I don't know? Is it blue?

Favorite brand of clothing?

Where would you want to retire to?
A big old country house in New Hampshire on a swimmable lake.

Favorite time of day?
Early afternoon, just as the sun starts to ease off of mid-day heat.

Where were you born?
Jersey City, New Jersey.

Favorite sport to watch?

Coke or Pepsi?
Pepsi if there'a choice, but I don't much care. I've become quite fond of Coke Zero, though.

Are you a morning person or night owl?
Night owl.

Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with everyone?
The small, Canadian, literary magazine Tickled by Thunder will be publishing my short story "TKO" some time this year. Details to follow.

What did you want to be when you were little?
A veterinarian. The realization that blood made me squeamish made me rethink that tack.

What is a favorite childhood memory?
A neighborhood blackout. Everyone hung out outside and my father, who owned a deli/liquor store, brought supplies for all.

What are the different jobs you have had in your life?
Grocery store cashier/stocker, new accounts rep for a publisher; membership rep for Actors' Equity, account rep for a airline menu publisher, copywriter for a marketing firm, and proposal writer for an accounting firm.

The guy who ran the rec center in town when I was a kid called me "Supe," as in "Superman." I think because my hair kind of naturally does that "S" thing on my forehead.

Any piercings?

Eye color?

Ever been to Africa?

Ever been toilet papering?
Can't say that I have.

Been in a car accident?
A few. No injuries though. (Cue frantic knocking of wood.)

Favorite day of the week?
Saturday--isn't that any work-weeker's?

Favorite restaurant?
An Italian place near where I live. They have a lamb osso bucco on the specials list often--completely dreamy.

Favorite flower?

Favorite ice cream?
Haagen-Dasz Vanilla . When I was in high school, I was in a play and the cast party was at my house. The director brought a two-gallon tub of Haagen-Dasz Vanilla that hardly got touched, and it sat in our freezer for weeks. Those were some heavenly weeks.

Favorite fast food restaurant?
The vanished in these parts Roy Rogers. A damn fine roast beef sandwich.

Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
A tough choice between a big Barnes & Noble (all the magazines, books, CDs, and DVDs I want) and something like a Best Buy (I'd lose the books and magazines but gain an assortment of electronic paraphanalia).

Between 11:30 and 12:00. Depends if the 11:30 Family Guy or The Simpsons reruns are new to me.

Last person(s) you went to dinner with?
The wife and I went to a small Italian place near us that features live music on Friday nights. A blind guy ("Ed Man") playing acoustic guitar and singing--he's awesome. We go for him, not the food.

What are you listening to right now?
The chatter of office keyboards clattering away in nearby cubicles.

What is your favorite color?

How many tattoos do you have?
Not a one. The temptation to get a full-color Captain America shield on my shoulder is always there, lurking though.

Until Whenever

Friday, March 17, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "High and Dry" - Radiohead - The Bends
Old-school Radiohead--acoustic guitar, bass, drums and nary an electric beep or boop to be found.

2. "II. Meditative" - John Adams - Road Movies
Pensive piano music from the composer laureate of the US.

3. "VIII-Zaporozhye Cossacks' Reply to the Sultan of Constantinople, Allegro" - Smitri Shostakovich - 14th Symphony
Angry, declarative piece, with strident baritone, from this vocal-heavy symphony.

4. "I Threw a Brick through a Window" - U2 - October
Early, punk-but-not-really U2.

5. "Some Days Are Better than Others" - U2 - Zooropa
Latter, not-at-all punk U2.

6. "Everybody's Got the Right" - Stephen Sondheim - Assassins (2004 Revival)
The opening song, a brilliantly bitter and cynical opening in which a carnival barker enjoins passersby to "shoot a president.":

"Hey Pal, feelin' blue?
Don't know what to do?
Hey Pal, I mean you!
Come here and kill a president!"

7. "Closing Credits" - James Horner - A Beautiful Mind (Film Score)
One of Horner's best. It's repetitive, but it's the culmination of his playing with this style and these sounds. If you are going to get one "ethereal" Horner score, this is the one.

8. "Twenty Miles from Marietta" - Jason Robert Brown - Parade (Original Broadway Cast)
Parade tells the true story of a Jew in Georgia who was accused of murdering a young girl who worked in his pencil factory. This very effective song featured the prosecutor singing his opening argument.

9. "I Draw the Line" - John Kander and Fred Ebb - Kiss of the Spider Woman (Original Broadway Cast)
From the musicalization of the story of two prisoners in South America, one gay one a freedom fighter, and the friendship that develops between them--this early song features the early hostility between the two. (Factoid: Brent Carver, who plays the gay prisoner Molina, is currently playing Gandolf in the world premiere of the new Lord of the Rings Musical in Toronto.)

10. "Queen Amidala and the Naboo Palace" - John Williams - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Film Score)
A bit of Anakin's theme, some regal fanfarish court music, some tension-building sneaking-around music.

Until Whenever

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Magazines I Read

Sometimes thinking up a witty/attempting-to-be witty title isn't worth the hassle, you know?


Newsweek--My attempt to keep (mostly) up-to-date with current events rests in large part with reading my weekly Newsweek cover to cover (mostly). I like Newsweek--clearly written, it does a nice job of presenting current events in a thorough and compelling fashion. The health articles can tend to the lots-of-words-saying-precious little, but the world and national news are well done.

Entertainment Weekly--I don't care what anyone says, I like Entertainment Weekly. The past year or so has seen the magazine start to trend towards a more snarky/tabloidy tone, which I don't like, but the reviews are well-done, engaging and smart, and the magazine produces the very occasional long-form story worthy of its betters--see last year's story on the making of the cult film Manos--The Hands of Fate.

The Atlantic--Probably my favorite magazine being published today. Wonderful long-form writing about current events that never gets impenetrable or over-politicized; smart, long-term reviews; great food writing, the odd short story. A well-put together magazine that's produced some of my favorite-ever stories--see William Langewische's masterful three-part story about the clean-up at Ground Zero for a prime example.

Good for the Occasional Newsstand Buy

The New Yorker--I'm always tempted to subscribe--the articles are invariably good, there's a short story every issue, and the occasional piece reached real greatness--but the price of a weekly is off-putting, as is the commitment to reading the issue every week. (10 or so issues a year)

Esquire--The cheesecake is hardly unwelcome, but it's the writing I go back for--Chuck Klosterman's column is always good and they'll put up the occasional great story or current event piece. I could do without the incessant style pieces (if I ever put a picture up here you'll see that style isn't exactly a priority for me), but otherwise I'm always happy with the issues I buy. (4-5 issues a year)

Wired--I used to buy this more, but haven't picked one up in quite a while. Too much filler and not enough reporting. An issue from two or three years ago, though, featured one of my favorite-ever magazine articles, about research into the effects of prayer. (1-2 issues a year)

Sports Illustrated--I buy the NBA preview and mid-year report every year; unless a cover story grabs my eye that's about it. (1-2 issues a year)

Magazines I Used to Buy and Pretty Much Never Do Anymore

Wizard--Couldn't justify the price anymore. One of my first job interviews after college was at Wizard, as it happens, for a research position. Didn't get it.

Harper's--Too heavily politicized and dense for my tastes, really, even if it means missing the odd article I'd be into.

Premiere--With the Internet nowadays I've seen/read pretty much all of the preview stuff, and the writing ain't that special.

Until Whenever
A Fine Line?

An interesting article in this week's Newsweek has gotten me to thinking. The article is about a new push from some quarters to make polygamy legal--as of now the practice is illegal in all 50 states. The attention and rhetoric of the movement to make same-sex marriage legal, it seems, has rubbed off on those in support of polygamy, and a small move has started, including a lawsuit working through the courts, to test the legality of restricting marriage to twosomes.

At first blush, this all seems a bit bizarre--but in trying to be honest with myself I was soon stumped. Why shouldn't polygamy be legal? After all, I'm very much on the side of those fighting to make gay marriage legal--the notion that a man who loves another man and wants to commit his life to him can't legally, not in the way that he could if he loved another woman in the same way, makes no sense to me. But then why aren't I equally in support of legal polygamy? The gay marriage argument hinges on the notion that it's not the state's business to say that a man shouldn't love another man. Then why is it the state's business to say that a man shouldn't love--and commit to--two other women?

I tried to lash on to the creepier aspects of polygamy to right my moral mast--the fact that many polygamists (while it may be illegal, estimates are that from 20,000 to 100,000 men and women in this country and in polygamous marriages) end up featuring incest and pedophilia, with older men taking teen brides, for example. But I was soon reminded of the arguments anti-gay marriage activists and pundits have made about how gay couples are promiscuous, pointing to sordid gay clubs and rampant partner-hopping as illustrations of why gays should not get the right to marry. My argument was, and is, that one has nothing to do with another. Sure, many gays are wildly promiscuous--but so are many straights. And the argument plays here, too, no? Many polygamists may commit pedophilia or near-pedophilia, but, well, that's already illegal, isn't it? What about a man and two women in their twenties, or thirties, who want to marry? Why does my moral mast protest at the notion?

In the end, I don't know. I can't figure out, on an intellectual level, why I'm "against" polygamy. All I know is that the idea makes me queasy, and I object to it on an almost instinctive level. Which, of course, is the same level that so many object to homosexuality on. Should polygamy be legal? I want to say no. But I'm not sure I can. Or should.

Until Whenever
Like When the Thing Got Even Craggier

Looks like the second season of Rock Star, on CBS this summer, will be even rockier. They've announced the band (I saw the news on Popwatch)--a new "supergroup" called Supernova comprising Motley Crue's Tommy Lee, Metallica's Jason Newsted, and Guns 'N Roses Gilby Clarke, with the winner anointed as the band's vocalist. I don't know the latter two at all, but from all three's backgrounds, I have to assume Supernova (bad name) will be a hard rock band, certainly more so than INXS was. Which I'm OK with. I like hard rock just fine, and would put good hard rock above INXS' stuff. My only hope is that they don't go too far towards the harder edge of the spectrum; if the stable of contestants is too one-dimensional, i.e., a lot of head-banging screamers, it would hurt the show. I liked Marty OK, but 12 Martys would have been boring.

American Idol isn't grabbing me much so far, so I'm very much looking forward to season two of Rock Star.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Music Morsels. Vol. XIV - The Soul Cages

Sting gets a lot of flak. Sure, lots of rock critics and such folk give the Police some love, but to this observer, less and less as time goes by, but solo Sting tends to get degraded as a mushy, wussy, airy creator of pablum--kind of like a more hippiesh Phil Collins.

These people are wrong. Sting may not create kind of hard and fast punk/reggae nuggets of pop perfection he did when with The Police anymore, but by the end of the group's run he wasn't really either. "Wrapped around Your Finger" hardly rocks. For me, Sting's greatest strength has always been in his talents as a songwriter, in his ability to rhythmically interesting, melodically solid, and creatively harmonic songs. And to these ears, he does this with the greatest level of skill, creativity, and consistency on his third, mostly forgotten, solo album, The Soul Cages.

The Soul Cages is one of those albums that has held me pretty transfixed for years--it's one of my desert island discs. It's actually a very loose concept album, with recurring themes of the sea and of the sins passed from fathers to sons heavy throughout. I've long toyed with the idea, in fact, of trying to take the album's songs and fashion a short musical out of them--the raw material, I'm convinced, is all there. Sting wrote the album after his father's death, actually, and at the time of its release he talked about how in writing the album for the first time in his career he suffered from real writer's block. Not musically, but lyrically. When he decided to write about his father, at least opaquely, the floodgates opened.

The opening track sets the tone for the album wonderfully, a mournful tone (oboe? bass clarinet? some synth sound?) marking a slow, sad, introductory melody/fanfare. The full band comes in after with a chugging, dissonant, squeezebox of a figure, over which Sting sings the story of a shipbuilder's son fated to live the same life as his father. A great song. The album's first single, the sprightly "All this Time" follows, and it's a song that deserved more attention when it was released--bright and poppy music over some thoughtful lyrics about religion. "Father, if Jesus exists, then how come he never lived here?

Religion, specifically the struggle to believe in a world that makes belief seem illogical, is the album's other overarching theme, and it comes a capper in the album's final song, the devastating ballad "When the Angels Fall." The song is slow to the point of being funereal, with a steady, somber beat and a rich harmonic feel. Sting's singing here is mournful and sad, and yet the song ends on something of an up note, the sad, slow music eventually giving way to a happier, long outro. This is a song worth seeking out.

Other highlights include the dark jazz-funk of "Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)," the Old Testament fervor of "Mad About You," the epic, sea-logged drama of "The Wild, Wild Sea," and the churning rock of the title track.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

. . . Very Encouraging

There's been a lot of talk ("maybe too much talk"--sorry, the U2 fan in me can't resist the shout-out to Bono's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" intro on the Red Rocks album) about how Brett Ratner is going to take the somber, wonderfully understated franchise Brian Singer built in the first two X-Men films and stomp all over them. But the full trailer that was released some weeks ago gives me absolutely no ill-feelings. Quite the opposite, in fact--this looks like a very natural and exciting conclusion to what is being billed now as a trilogy. And the storyline they seem to be grabbing at least a thread from--Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men story about the development of a cure for mutants--is a perfect fit for the big screen, and a very organic continuation from the previous films. I am officially excited for this film now.

Until Whenever
9/11 Ownership

I work just across the street from Ground Zero. Every day I have to basically walk around the site to get to the office, since the PATH train dumps riders off on the East end of the site, and I work in a building on the Hudson shore, West of the site.

The news these last few days has been full of stories about the beginning of the official 9/11 memorial construction, and the fact that a coalition of family members of victims is protesting and suing to stop the work. Their issues seem to stem mostly from the fact that the memorial will be below street level and that its construction will harm the integrity of the site and of the two towers' original footprints.

Two questions. First, what, exactly, are they suing over? None of the articles I've read have made it clear what legal argument they are making, but just reiterated their gripes with the plans overall. One can smell the immateriality of the actual argument from the articles--this isn't about a legal issue, or a matter of the city or the builders breaking laws, but simply that the protestors, these particular family members don't like the plan. Which, to me, is odd.

Second. Is it just me, or is it a little odd that these family members assume so much power and righteousness over the issue? The enormity of 9/11 and it's unique historical stature make the emotions big and raw, sure, but nonetheless--isn't it strange for a victim's family, even the family of the the victims of terrorist attacks, to expect to have a say over what is done with the lace where the attack occurred? If arsonists burned down a church and killed my mother while she was there praying, I don't see how that gives me the right to dictate what is done with the land the church was on. Isn't this, in materiality, the same thing? It's a hard thing to talk about, because there is such respect for what the 9/11 victims' families have gone through but now, especially now four and a half years later, aren't their demands starting to seem . . . unseemly?

Until Whenever

Monday, March 13, 2006

Won't You?

An alphabet-inspired meme from Lefty:

A - Age: 31
B - Band listening to right now: None. A few hours ago, The Clash. Just got London Calling. Pretty good.
C - Career future: Can it be more and more and more business writing? I hope not. I suspect yes.
D - Dad's name: John
E - Easiest person to talk to: The wife.
F - Favorite song: Song? No genre to help me winnow the herd? Let's say Sondheim's "No More."
G - Gummy Bears or Gummy Worms: Bears.
H - Hometown: A small town in New Jersey.
I - Instruments: Fake piano and fake guitar--none for real.
J - Proposal writer for an accounting firm.
K - Kids: Two.
L - Longest car ride ever: NJ to Florida with no stopping (couldn't find a hotel)
M - Mom's name: Margery
N - Number of jobs you've had: 10 or so?
P - Phobia[s]: No real phobias. I don't like the idea of falling to my death, or of being suffocated, but who does?
Q - Quote: "I know there's a balance, I see it when I swing past" - John Mellencamp. Seriously.
R - Reason to smile: New Sopranos.
S - Song you sang last: "In My Life"
T - Time you wake up: 6:30 EST
U - Unknown fact about me: I first dated my wife when we were 13 years old.
V - Vegetable you hate: Carrots in their cooked state.
W - Worst habit: Nail-biting?
X - X-rays you've had: Knee, lungs, teeth.
Y - Yummy food: Bacon. Wrapped in bacon.
Z - Zodiac sign: Virgo
A Few of My Favorite Things

I'm back. Well, obviously.

Jaquandor, bless his long-haired heart, has passed on a very fun classical-music-focused meme, in which the responder is to list his favorite works from within a whole slew of categories, but I can't complete it as posited. See, while I like me my classical music just fine, I'm not nearly a deep enough listener to be able to name, for example, my favorite "concerto for wind instrument." Still, it's a fun game, so I'll jump in and answer what I can, while adding my own categories as the whims take me (these, following Jaq's lead, have been marked with an asterisk).

So, my favorite:

Beethoven's 9th is, not merely my favorite symphony, but easily my favorite work of art, ever. Were I banished to that proverbial, power-supplied island, with the dictate to take not ten albums, not ten books, but one work of art, this is the one I'd choose. It astonishes me on a regular basis. In fact, one of my most cherished memories is of this piece--when in college I performed it with the University orchestra and an amalgam of several of the University's choirs (I was a baritone in the Glee Club, and so ended up singing bass in the choir for the performance). I can still remember the palpable feeling of awe when I sung, in as fortissimo as fortissimo as I could muster, some of those big, imperial, lusty pieces. And I don't mean awe as in how great I was--I was, at best, a mediocre singer. But being part of that music gave me as close to a religious feeling, a feeling of being a part of something so much bigger than myself, as I've ever had.

Tone Poem, or other non-symphony long-form orchestral work
John Adams' Naive and Sentimental music. OK, this is for all intents and purposes a symphony, but this way I get to mention it too. A remarkable piece of music, and the heir apparent to the title of "the great American symphony" (see here). Probably the most moving and impressive piece of contemporary music I own.

Piano concerto
Gershwin's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. I've no doubt that the next hundred years will see Gershwin elevated to an even higher status than he already has. That he died at a mere 34 is as tragic a fact as the art world has produced. I've yet to hear a composer combine jazz, popular, and classical musical thoughts into as seamless and cohesive a whole as Gershwin did, and this concerto is a shining example of it.

Overture or other short classical work (less than 12 minutes long):
The overture to Bernstein's Candide is like Mary Poppins--practically perfect in every way. A sublimely fun and giddy piece of writing.

Piano sonata
An area where I'm woefully undereducated, but Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, cliched as it's become, is as moving a piece of music as I've ever heard. The man could plumb such primal emotions in so stark and simple terms.

Latin choral work (mass, requiem, Stabat Mater, etc.)
Faure's Requiem. Ethereally beautiful. I keep meaning to get more of Faure's stuff, and keep forgetting. Consider this a reminder.

Choral work in a language other than Latin
David Conte's Canticle (from the Rising of the Sun). We sang this in Glee Club and I've since adored it. A modern piece with some 20th century touches atop some beautiful choral writing. Conte isn't too well-recorded, as far as I can see, but I do have this one with the Glee Club (myself included) singing it.

Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. The only opera I've ever seen in a real professional production. Stark, bleak, and very powerful. The triple-fff "Peter Grimes!!!" bellows from the choir give me chills every time I've heard them.

Classical work composed after 1950
In addition to some of the stuff mentioned above, Arvo Part's Te Deum, or really pretty much any of Part's stuff--he's real good.

Movie Score
My favorite score of all-time? In the end, it would have to go to the predictable choice of Williams' Star Wars score (the original), sad to say. An unoriginal choice, but sometimes there ain't nothing you can do about that. For a less obvious choice, I'd list Thomas Newman's powerful, subtle score for The Shawshank Redemption.

Musical theater score*
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is the form's ultimate expression. Opera companies are grabbing it, but it remains Broadway's best.

TV theme
I like plenty of TV themes, but almost always only in the context of the show. The only TV theme I can think of wanting to own just to listen to, even if I never see another episode, is the pitch-perfect piece of melancholia that opened every episode of Taxi.

Song, rock
U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" For a look at why, see here:

Song, other
Other? Let's opt for the elegant and pristine ABBA tune "Like an Angel Passing through My Room" Seriously. Go check it out. Listen to 30 seconds on iTunes. I'll wait.


Song, musical theater*
Sondheim's "No More," from Into the Woods. A simple, direct, and powerful song about taking responsibility in life, or not.

Song, standard
Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are." Sung at my wedding, thank you very much. (I wish the rendition Willie Nelson offered up some years back on a PBS Hammerstein special was available).

Jazz, long-form
Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." Ecstatic praise to God through a sax. Inspiring to this atheist.

Jazz, short piece*
Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk. It's square of me to name a Brubeck piece, but Jimmy Crack corn and I do not care.

Jazz song*
Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March." Mandy Patinkin did this in a concert I attended a decade or so ago, and I've been hoping for him to record it ever since. In the meantime, Cassandra Wilson's version is good stuff.

Christmas song*
For pure melody, nothing beats "Silent Night," but overall a good rendition of "O Holy Night" edges it out.

Guitar, rock, blues, country or other
Stevie Ray Vaughn's instrumental cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Perfect.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oscar and a Hiatus

You've by now read lots of Oscar recaps and commentaries, so I'll be very brief:

Stewart was very funny. Those who have assailed his performance confuse me. But I do see how he might be wrong for the Oscars. What I finally realized is that the Oscars want a host who can be funny by mocking them while at the same time completely kissing their ass. And Billy Crystal is the only modern host who has been able to pull this off. It's kind of like making fun of an uncle you have a good relationship with, when underneath any playful jibe is the understanding that you worship the guy. Crystal does this with the Oscars--"Hey, the show is long isn't it? Man, I love the Oscars!"

Steve Martin and, even more so, John Stewart, are more sincere with their mockery. Stewart Sunday night was more like making fun of an uncle you like fine, and respect, but aren't that tight with, and being serious with some of your joking. Crystal is "you're fat but don't ever change." Stewart is "You're fat, and we can kid about it, but seriously--lose some weight."

I didn't see nearly enough of the nominees to get worked up over any of the winners. I did see Crash and thought it excellent--so it's winning Best Picture was OK by me.

Morgan Freeman is one of the very, very few actors who can go tieless to the Oscars and look cool, not lame.

The whole slow-motion montage behind Kathleen York singing was silly, but the wife made a good point--it wasn't meant to be seen in closeups. From the back of the theater it was probably a lot less lame.

And that's about all I got.

Oh--a bookkeeping note. T&C will be taking a brief hiatus for a week or so, to enjoy some "away from the computer" time. Be back soon!

Until Whenever

Friday, March 03, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Under the Sea" - Alan Menken and Howard Ashman - The Little Mermaid
Thanks to The Simpsons, I can not hear this song anymore without hearing Marge Simpson say "It's NOT Gonna Happen!"

2. "Almost Blue" - Elvis Costello - My Flame Burns Blue
This just came out Tuesday, and it's all sorts of good. A live concert of Elvis Costello doing some Mingus, some of his own stuff, and some other stuff all with a great big 'ol jazz orchestra. This version of "Almost Blue" is lush and sweeping.

3. "Tears at the Birthday Party" - Bill Frisell - The Sweetest Punch
Odd. Another jazzy Elvis piece. This album features famed jazz guitarist Bill Frisell doing many of the songs Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach wrote together for their Painted from Memory Album. Smooth jazz that doesn't suck.

4. "On the Right Path" - Stephen Schwartz - Pippin
I directed Pippin once. Not a good experience.

5. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Paul Simon - America: A Tribute to Heroes
An almost somber, plain-spoken rendition from the days-after-9/11-concert.

6. "Remembrances" - John Williams - Schindler's List (Film Score)
One of Williams' five best scores, by my reckoning. Such sweetly sad music. This tune is actually based on an old Yiddish folk tune.

7. "Eight Days a Week" - The Beatles - 1
I really don't like early Beatles.

8. "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" - Jimi Hendrix - The Essential Jimi Hendrix
Laid back and happily funky Jimi, overdoing the stereo effects. I'm getting seasick.

9. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" - U2 - Achtung Baby
A classic U2 rocker.

10. "Soldiers of Heaven" - John Adams - Nixon in China
I am really getting into this opera, in a big way. I love the minimalism in service of opera; seems like it shouldn't work, but it does.

Until Whenever

7. "

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Music Morsels - Vol. XXI - Rhythm of the Saints

When all is said and done, Paul Simon will most likely be primarily remembered for two things: Simon & Garfunkel and Graceland. Now, Graceland is a fine album, make no mistake, but I've always had a soft spot for his follow-up album The Rhythm of the Saints. If Graceland was the sound of a sensitive singer-songwriter exploring Africa, and playing with the sounds and voices he found there in new and exciting ways, then The Rhythm of the Saints is the sound of that same singer-songwriter doing the same thing in South America. Except, as the title suggests, it was more than anything else, the rhythms of that country that he delights in playing with.

The opening track, "The Obvious Child," was the first single off the album, as well as the song he opened concerts with while touring in support of the album. As a kick-off--to album, concert, or promotional push--it's superb. The song opens with the wonderfully sharp rat-a-tat-tat of a multitude of drums, a mere forbearer of the mass of percussive sound that is to follow. The song is propelled by a chugging, celebratory percussion mix, and it is this use of percussion that makes the album stand out. There's nary a drum set in earshot as the album progresses; each song uses differing combinations of large percussion ensembles to provide the backbeat and rhythm, and when you hear the effect on Simon's thoughtful, poised songs it's enchanting. You realize how, in the end, limiting is the traditional drum set for pop and rock bands, how so many drum parts are no more than exceedingly minor variations on the same basic time-keeping beats.

The album's strengths aren't solely the result of all that percussion though; I'd say that, on the whole, the songwriting itself is stronger than on Graceland as well. Simon makes use of a hushed and evocative style throughout that the marries quite well to some of his purest and most elegant melodies. Highlights include the paranoid "Can't Run But," the ever-so-slightly impulsive "further to Fly," and the hymn-like "Born at the Right Time."

Grade: A

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

American Idol 2006

I'm kind of watching, kind of not so far (saw only two songs last night, for instance), and am really far too lazy to start writing about individual performances. Maybe later, when the winnowing is further along.

The best recap of all the singers' first week I've read though, comes from The Advocate's Dave White.

Best line from said recap?

"Taylor Hicks, 29, from Birmingham, Ala., is like what happens when you get cast as the grandfather in the high school play and they throw white powder on your hair."


(I played Grandpa in a college play as a freshman, so I know of what he speaks.)

Until Whenever
A Peek at the Nightstand

Been reading:

Runaways, by Brian Vaughn and Adrian Alphona
Saw the hardcover at the library and figured why not pick it up. Was very happy I did. Good, solid, old-fashioned storytelling, with some nice twists. Vaughn writes (and Alphona draws) the kids very, very well, with the teen speak and the attitudes served up as pretty naturalistic with the right soupcon of stylization. And he does a great job of creating a Marvel Universe-set series that feels like part of the larger whole without being at all dense or feeling like it's part of some exclusive club. A fun little surprise of a comic.

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
I loved this novel. Pleasantly overstuffed, like a heaping sub, with characters and situations. The novel is basically the story of the interaction between two families, one mixed race and headed by an academic white lefty and the other black and headed by a black cultural conservative, with the emphasis on the former. It's one of those sprawling novels in which at the end of the end of the book there is no real tying up of the loose ends--we pretty much just leave our characters to continue on with their ongoing stories, but that's all right. The energy of the writing and the vividness of the characters more than make up for those lose ends.

Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer
I am loving this book. A look at all sorts of bizarre things--psychics, Holocaust deniers, creationists--and why they believe what they do. I just started this one and am having trouble putting it down.

Until Whenever