Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Things That Would be Awesome

If they made a new film version of 1776, and in the final scene, when the delegates sign the Declaration of Independence as the Liberty Bell rings in the background, and we hear the first name called out, "Dr. Josiah Bartlett," and we saw Bartlett come up to sign, and they got Martin Sheen to play him.

That would be awesome.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2006 Albums I Loved

Not a "ten best," since I may not have even bought ten albums total in 2006; what we have here is simply a list of the 2006 releases I bought or received. In alphabetical order.

All the Roadrunning, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris.

On my first listen I wasn't moved - sounded like Knopfler's previous four solo albums, all fine, well-crafted, country/folky things, but none earth-shattering. On the second listen, I started to hear the hooks, and the inexplicable way that Harris' contributions gave the same types of serviceable songs that Knopfler has been writing for the last several years a real specialness. This is a fine album. Choice cut: "This Is Us," in which a married couple recalls the highlights of their life together as they page through a photo album.

Build a Bridge, Audra McDonald

An impeccably sung collection of mostly pop songs, with the odd show tune and discarded musical theater composer song thrown in. Choice cut: McDonald's shimmering, stately rendition of the Neil Young song "My Heart" made me hear the song in a whole new way.

Living with War, Neil Young

Neil Young, following right up on the slow and sweet acoustic-flavored late 1995 release "Prairie Wind," puts out a classic pick-up-your-guitar and sing three-chord throwback of an angry electric protest record. Choice cut: "The Restless Consumer." Love Young's falsetto on the chorus.

Modern Times, Bob Dylan

I gushed at length over this album here; suffice it to say that, while this doesn't quite reach the heights that Love and Theft scaled, it comes damn, damn close. An inexplicable blend of rigidly old-fashioned sounds and rhythms that, when sung in Dylan's dry-aged voice, sound completely of the now. Choice cut: "Workingman's Blues," a delicate, gently swinging ballad for the working man.

My Flame Burns Blue, Elvis Costello with the Metropole Orkest
Costello swings like mad with a famed European jazz orchestra on some old Costello tunes and some Charles Mingus classics he wrote new lyrics for. A live recording that makes you despair that you weren't there. Choice cut: "Hora Decubitis," the aforementioned Mingus track.

A selection of old and new Christmas songs that does a fine job of balancing a sweet understatement with enough melancholy for bite. Choice cut: The admittedly somewhat down "Whatever Happened to Christmas?"

See What I Wanna See, Michael John LaChiusa

Truth be told, I still haven't completely been able to get into this one - although the opening,"Kesa," is a beautiful piece of coiled, slinky menace. Choice cut: "Kesa"

Didn't bowl me over, but miles better than the typical pop pablum that gets tossed onto a kids' movie soundtrack. Choice cut: The laid-back "Upside-Down."

Surprise, Paul Simon

A very modern-sounding, yet assured and mature-feeling collection from Simon, miles ahead of his tepid last studio outing, You're the One. Choice cut: The opening "Who Wants to Live in the Northeast," featuring one of those ever-so-simple chord progressions that sounds preordained.

The River in Reverse, Elvis Costello and Alan Toussaint

Some may disagree, but I've yet to hear Costello tackle a style or genre of music and fail. Here he puts out with N'awlins staple Toussaint an uplifting yet somber collection of songs steeped in the spirit of New Orleans. Choice cut: "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" A sweet slice of attitude-laden swamp-funk.

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen

As rowdy and energetic a record as I've ever heard, Springsteen and Friends must have had a hell of a time putting this album together, because the joy and wide-eyed enthusiasm come across in every track. Choice cut: The hand-clappin, stand-up-and-testify "Jacob's Ladder."

Until Whenever

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Cast of Thousands . . .

I typically have no interest in videos, but the new U2 video for the "Window in the Skies" single had me wowed. The concept is utter simplicity - cut a cavalcade of performance video of seemingly every important popular music figure of the twentieth century, using select careful editing to make it appear as if all of these people are singing and playing the U2 song. The execution is great and the editing a masterwork of timing and precision. But the video did raise for me some questions:

1) How long before someone gripes about whatever big artist they didn't include? There have to be hundreds represented here, but I'm sure someone'll be upset about someone who was overlooked.

2) How long before someone deliberately misreads the video to be all about how every great artist of the 20th century really just wanted to do a U2 song?

Until Whenever

Friday, December 15, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Me and My Shadow" - Mandy Patinkin - Mandy Patinkin
Croonin' a classic tune.

2. "Pirate Jenny" - Kurt Weill - The Threepenny Opera (Original New York Cast)
I got this after being quite won over by the song Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper did on the Tonys last year. But the austere, harsh style of the original just doesn't work for me.

3. "You ladies, you" - Benjamin Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream (Opera)
Some very nice character singing, here.

4. "Summertime Blues" - The Who - Live at Leeds
100% rock, no additives included.

5. "High on Life" - Clint Mansell - Requiem for a Dream (Score)
Strange, very short piece of gurgling and bubbling instrumentation.

6. "Over the Moon" - Jonathan Larson - Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
Larson's spot-on cutting, yet affectionate, parody of earnest performance art.

7. "Territorial Pissings" - Nirvana - Nevermind
Pushing that tempo.

8. "Casting a Spell" - Danny Elfman - Corpse Bride (Score)
Elfman loves his harpsichord.

9. "Foolishment" - Tomas Newman - The Green Mile (Score)
Moody, hushed stuff from Newman's noble-but-not-quite-successful attempt to recreate his Shawshank musical magic.

10. "By the Sea" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Angela Lansbury) - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
A lovely ode to domestic bliss, sung from one murdering human meat pusher to another.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


From James Tata this time.

1) My uncle once: received a Purple Heart.
2) Never in my life: Been to Staten Island.
3) When I was five: My parents got divorced.
4) High school was: Fun, once I learned that the geeky kids were secretly the cool kids.
5) Fire is: Hot.
6) I once saw: Susan Sarandon, as I ran past her in a college building's hallway.
7) There’s this woman I know who: Missed a 4.o as a math/education major because of one A-minus in a feminism course.
8) Once, at a bar: I saw my father throw a drunk down the front steps.
9) By noon I’m usually: Fixated on the coming of lunch.
10) Last night: I played "hide the baby doll" with my toddlers.
11) If I only had: the means to do whatever I wanted, to be able to laugh at practicality.
12) Next time I go to church: I hope the good priest says Mass.
13) What worries me most: Something bad happening to the twins.
14) When I turn my head left: I see two valentine hearts my girls made for me last year.
15) When I turn my head right: Many pictures of said girls as babies.
16) You know I'm lying when: I'm in casual conversation with strangers or mild acquaintances. 17) What I miss most about the eighties: is Bono's voice before he damaged it but good with cigarettes and booze.
18) If I were a character written by Shakespeare, I’d be: In the background. Shakespeare's characters had lives a hell of a lot more dramatic than mine!
19) By this time next year: The twins will be frighteningly old. (3)
20) I have a hard time understanding: Middle Eastern history and current events. Seriously - it's like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel; impenetrable.
21) You know I like you if: I engage in more than pleasantries with you willingly.
22) If I won an award, the first person I’d thank would be: My wife.
23) Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferraro: Have nothing in common that I can figure out.
24) Take my advice, never: Eat a raw peanut. Ick.
25) My ideal breakfast is: Pancakes. I know, yawn. But really, really, good pancakes.
26) If you visit my hometown, I suggest you go to: Hogan's restaurant for some damn fine pancakes.
27) Why doesn't everyone: Chill.t
28) If you spend the night at my house: Very loud little people will wake you up.
29) I’d stop my wedding: If my wife-to-be's true love came running in at the last minute. (Nah.)
30) The world could do without: Barney. Should, really.
31) My favorite blond is: Charlize Theron.
32) If I do anything well, it’s: Write.
33) And by the way: Romance films and novels get some things right - ice cream can cure many an ill.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Name One . . .

I have a particular fondness for memes like this one - the task is to give one very good recommended example, preferably somewhat underappreciated, for each of the categories listed. No fuss no muss. (Taken from Terry Teachout's About Last Night, although I've omitted some categories I have no experience in and added some of my own).

Movie score. I've blogged about it before, but John Williams' score for A.I. manages to seamlessly mesh two styles that by all rights should not play along well at all - Williams' own heroic, fanfare-laden, melody-focused style and Philip Glass' repetitive, hypnotic, churning minimalist style.

TV theme. Taxi. I usually have no stomach for "light jazz," but the wistful flute and the combo of wistful flute and laid-back electronic keyboard on display here works very well. And that primary melody is a wonderfully emotive construction.

Melody. For my money, the best pure melody out there belongs to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." But the best modern entry into the "best pure melody" sweepstakes I can think of is the practically perfect melody line to Adam Guettel's "Migratory V."

Harmonic language. Stephen Sondheim, according to one source (see below) bases his scores not on melodies but on harmonic progressions and settings to which he then assigns melodies. I'm not educated enough to really speak to what this technically means, but it produces a very distinct, rewarding sound.

Rhythmic feel. Again, I don't have the musical education or language to really delve into this one too deeply, but the finale to Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures, "Next," features a percussive break in the middle that always floors me.

Jazz: Terry Trotter did a series of jazz trio treatments of Sondheim scores, and his first one, Passion, features some sparkling stuff.

Classical piece. John Adams Naive and Sentimental Music is a beautiful long-form piece, with a remarkably sinuous, long-lined melody that dominates the first movement that I still can't quite get a handle on.

Smash hit. U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Just listen to some of the notes Bono hits in there.

Book on music. A now out-of-print gem called The Broadway Musical that features spot-on musical analysis of some of musical theater's greatest scores. Technical enough to be truly interesting and yet not so technical that I can't follow any of it (although to be sure I can't follow much of it). A font of illuminating analysis.

Musical theater score. Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins score is an inspired blend of country, bluegrass, and Broadway sound, with a thick and fiddle- and guitar-heavy orchestration that fits it just right.

Musical theater song. "How Glory Goes" off of the aforementioned Floyd Collins score is a gem of a song, an aching plea from a dying man to God. Audra McDonald sings the all-mighty hell out of it on her second album, which takes its title from the song.

Opera. Dead Man Walking is the modern opera score I keep returning to, with its seamless blend of drama, humor, pop sounds, and searing, full-bodied operatic outbursts.

Until Whenever

Friday, December 08, 2006

Buried Beauties: Nora Zehetner

To my discredit, it took until the "six-months-before" flashback episode of Heroes, in which she appeared with long hair, before I realized that Nora Zehetner's Eden character was not just cute but beautiful. She has my apologies, should she want them.

Until Whenever
The "Overrated" Parlor Game

Stealing from Roger who stole from Jaquandor, here are my reactions to Premiere magazine's list of the 20 most overrated films:

20. American Beauty.
I have to admit to finding the whole finding-rapture-in-a-plastic-trash-bag thing impenetrable. But overall I did like the film, especially Spacey and Bennett's performances.

19. Chicago.
Love it. I think some of the backlash against this is coming from folks who just hate that a musical won for Best Picture. The whole thing was put together wonderfully, with the singing, acting, and dancing all executed superbly. And as much as I am leery of the notion that the only way to get an audience to accept singing in a musical is to make it explicitly fantasy, I love the whole "in Roxie's" head conceit - it fits with the theme of the film so well--that this woman is so obsessed by show business that she thinks and sees the world around her in purely show business terms.

18. Clerks.
Agreed. When I finally got around to see this I was amazed that not one review or commentary I had read noted how cringingly awful the acting was. I still don't understand why Kevin Smith insists on directing, as opposed to just writing. He has no feel at all for actors or the camera.

17. Fantasia.
Given that I can never get myself to just sit and watch the thing, I probably have to agree. In theory I should love it - I love classical music and Disney animation- and yet somehow I always find myself bored watching it.

16. Field of Dreams.
I'm not sure I've ever seen this all the way through.

15. Chariots of Fire.
Saw it as an eight-year old (my father thought he was taking us to see the caveman movie that came out around the same time with "Fire" in the title - Quest for Fire? Haven't seen it since, but I do remember enjoying it a lot--just not why.

14. Good Will Hunting.
I loved this movie. Sweet and touching and well-acted and with an absolutely luminous Minnie Driver. They did cheat at the end though - the final breakthrough Robin Williams achieves with Matt Damon is kind of forced in there and doesn't really make any sense.

13. Forrest Gump.
Love it. Completely. I have a theory - if Gum had bombed at the box office, it would be beloved by critics today. But because it was a monster hit, they hate it. Hanks' performance seems easy, but it's really a remarkable bit of acting. It would be so easy for Gump to be a joke, and caricature. That he's not is a testament to how good Hanks is.

12. Jules and Jim.
Never heard of it, let alone saw it.

11. A Beautiful Mind.
I liked this one a lot as well. Great score by James Horner and Crowe is just great. I do squirm a little at how literal they made his schizophrenic delusions.

10. Monster's Ball.
A movie I liked fine but that I have no real urge to see again. So maybe it was a bit overrated.

9. Moonstruck.
Come on. This is as perfect a romantic comedy as has been made. Just fun in every frame.

8. Mystic River.
A moving, engaging film. I think a lot of these are really just a matter of the magazine overreacting to some of the praise. It's not the greatest film ever, but it's well-made, well-acted, with a great script - and a great source in Lehane's somber novel.

7. Nashville.
On the list of "must see."

6. The Wizard of Oz.
Now they're just being deliberately provocative.

5. An American in Paris.
Never seen. But a brilliant piece of music.

4. Easy Rider.
Never seen. And have no real desire to.

3. The Red Shoes.
Haven't seen.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Agreed. I finally saw this a few year's back and was wholly non-plussed. Bored, really.

1. Gone with the Wind.
Never seen it.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Fascinating article, here, about how in the past two years, Best Buy has instituted a radical workplace concept: Work where and when you want. Come in once a week, work from home, work at night, work from your boat - they don't care, as long as the work is getting done. And it is--and how. All data seem to suggest that productivity amongst any department that has adopted the policy is up, and by significant numbers. A great read, and a wonderful notion. Now to start sending to my companies muckity mucks . . .

Until Whenever
They Dissed Dylan!

Given that I listen to almost no new music these days, my reactions to Grammy nominations are much less involved than they used to be. Still--I have to bemoan the lack of Dylan love on display here. The reviews for Modern Times were seriously rapturous. Add to that the surprising sales - including a week at #1, almost unheard of for a Dylan disc, and the lack of at least a Best Album nomination is disappointing. Did Messrs. Tosy and Cosh have any other reactions?

That "Crazy" is indeed a damn catchy little thing, and not something I would hate to see win record of the year. That wretched "You're Beautiful" song? Not so much.

The new John Mayer and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums got Album of the Year nominations and no Modern Times???

I do not know any of the Song of the Year nominees except for the aforementioned Blount composition, which doesn't belong anywhere near any awards.

U2 get a nomination for their appearance on Mary J. Blige's cover of "One." Neat.

Nice to see Elvis Costello and Alan Toussaint get a Pop Vocal Album nomination for their sweet and bouncy The River in Reverse.

Dylan gets a Solo Rock Performance nomination for "Someday Baby." Amen. Listen to the way he toys with those jumps up the scale throughout the song. ("I don't care what you DO.") Master class stuff. And Neil Young gets nominated in the same category for a song off his wonderfully stripped down and homemade Living with War.

Another U2 nomination, this time with Green Day for their cover of "The Saints Are Coming."

Having Dylan nominated for Best Rock Song is like having Shakespeare in a Best Play competition.

But that he doesn't even get a nomination for Rock Album is just plain criminal.

I do appreciate that they put Springsteen's rollicking Seeger Sessions where it belongs, in the folk category.

And Modern Times gets a Best Contemporary Folk/Americana album nomination, alongside Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris' stellar All the Roadrunning. Fun category.

There was a time when I would have been familiar with all of the "Best Musical Show" nominees. This year, I only know the Sweeney Todd revical. Sad. (On my part, that is. Can't blame this one on the Grammys.)

The Brokeback Mountain soundtrack was really nicely put together - albums that mix songs and score material often don't work; this one did.

Very cool to see John Williams also get two "Best Instrumental Composition" nominations, for pieces off of Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha.

I didn't know there was a "Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists" award, but I love that Vince Mendoza got nominated for one for his work with Elvis Costello and the Metropole Orkest.

Until Whenever

John Williams Munich score is great stuff - hope it gets some recognition here.


The good folks over at A List of Things Thrown Ten Minutes Ago have a post up in which folks are listing the duplicate song titles in their music collections - not covers, not multiple versions of the same song, but different songs that share the same title. I was for some ungodly reason very intrigued by the idea and have culled through my trusty iPod to reveal the following list. "Beautiful" leads the pack, with six distinct songs in my collection by that name.

A Man and a Woman - U2 (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb)
A Man and a Woman - Jones and Schmidt (110 in the Shade)

Alabama - John Coltrane
Alabama - Neil Young (Harvest)

Always - U2
Always - Ella Fitzgerald (Irving Berlin)

America - Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story)
America - Simon & Garfunkel (Bookends)
America - Tracy Chapman (Where You Live)

Beautiful - Michael John LaChiusa (Marie Christine)
Beautiful - Aimee Mann
Beautiful - James Newton Howard (King Kong)
Beautiful - Stephen Sondheim (Sunday in the Park with George)
Beautiful - Paul Simon (Surprise)
Beautiful - Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)

Bon Voyage - Leonard Bernstein (Candide)
Bon Voyage - Vince Guaraldi (George Winston Plays Vince Guaraldi)

Broken - Elvis Costello (Mighty Like a Rose)
Broken - Jack Johnson (Sing Along Songs)
Broken - Tracy Chapman (Let It Rain)

Central Park - James Newton Howard (King Kong)
Central Park - Michael John LaChiusa (See What I Wanna See)

Change - Tears for Fears (Tears Roll Down)
Change - Tracy Chapman (Where You Live)

Come with Me - Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party)
Come with Me - John Du Prez and Eric Idle (Spamalot)

The Dream - Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins)
The Dream - Bock and Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof)

Drive - Durkhard Ballwitz (Requiem for a Dream)
Drive - REM (Automatic for the People)

Fallen - Elvis Costello (North)
Fallen - K.D. Lang (Hymns of the 49th Parallel)

The Final Confrontation - Danny Elfman (Batman Returns)
The Final Confrontation - Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands)

Fire - Jimi Hendrix (The Essential Jimi Hendrix)
Fire - Pete Townsend (The Iron Man)
Fire - Tan Dun (Symphony)
Fire - U2 (October)

For You - Bruce Springsteen (The Essential Bruce Springsteen)
For You - Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman)

Funny Face - Ella Fitzgerald (Gershwin)
Funny Face - U2 (Million Dollar Hotel)

Ghosts - Durkhard Ballwitz (Requiem for a Dream)
Ghosts - Thomas Newman (Road to Perdition)

Gloria - U2 (October)
Gloria - Beethoven (Missa Solemnis)
Gloria - Jimi Hendrix ((The Essential Jimi Hendrix)

Goodbye - James Horner (Sneakers)
Goodbye - John Ottman (X-Men 2)
Goodbye - Tracy Chapman (Let It Rain)

Grace - U2 (All That You Can't Leave Behind)
Grace - Jeff Buckley (Grace)

Hand in Hand - Dire Straits (Making Movies)
Hand in Hand Elvis Costello (This Year's Model)

Heaven - Ricky Ian Gordon (Bright Eyed Joy)
Heaven - Tan Dun (Symphony)

Hello Again - Dave Matthews Band (Stand Up)
Hello Again - Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again)

Home - Alan Menken and Tim Rice (Beauty and the Beast)
Home - Sheryl Crow (Best of Sheryl Crow)
Home - Maury Yeston (The Phantom of the Opera)

I'm Ready - Howard Shore (Philadelphia)
I'm Ready - Tracy Chapman (New Beginning)

I Threw It All Away - Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline)
I Threw It All Away - Elvis Costello (Kodak Variety)

I Want You - Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde)
I Want You - Elvis Costello (Blood and Chocloate)

It's Time - Elvis Costello (All This Useless BEauty)
It's Time - John Ottman (X-Men 2)

It Takes All Kinds - Aimee Mann (Bachelor #2)
It Takes All Kinds - Stephen Sondheim (Sondheim at the Movies)

The Kiss - Alan Menken (Alladin)
The Kiss - Phillip Glass (The Hours)

Lament - Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods)
Lament - Andrew Lloyd Weber (Evita)

Love and Happiness - John Mellencamp (Whenever We Wanted)
Love and Happiness - Living Colour (Biscuits)
Love and Happiness - Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris (All the Roadrunning)

Love Song - Kurt Weill (The Threepenny Opera)
Love Song - Stephen Schwartz (Pippin)

Lucky - Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins)
Lucky - Radiohead (OK Computer)

Lullaby - Jack Johnson (Sing Along Songs)
Lullaby - Tan Dun (Symphony)

The Money Song - Kander and Ebb (Cabaret)
The Money Song - Marx and Lopez (Avenue Q)

More - Michael John LaChiusa (The Wild Party)
More - Stephen Sondheim (Sondheim at the Movies)

Next to You - Stephen Sondheim (Bounce)
Next to You - The Police (Outlandos d Amor)

No Matter What - Boyzone (Notting Hill)
No Matter What - Alan Menken and Tim Rice (Beauty and the Beast)

No More - Jonathan Larson (tick . . . tick . . . BOOM!)
No More - Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods)
No More - Michael John LaChiusa (See What I Wanna See)
No More - Neil Young (Freedom)

No Wonder - Anne Sofie Van Oter (For the Stars)
No Wonder - Neil Young (Prairie Wind)

Old Friends - Stephen Sondheim (Putting It Together)
Old Friends - Simon & Garfunkel (Bookends)

One - U2 (Achtung Baby)
One - Aimee Mann (Magnolia)

Opportunity - Elvis Costello (Get Happy)
Opportunity - Stephen Sondheim (Bounce)

Procession - Benjamin Britten (A Ceremony of Carols)
Procession - Queen (Queen II)

Quiet - Leonard Bernstein (Candide)
Quiet - Paul Simon (You're the One)
Quiet - Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream)

Remember - Antonio Carlos Jobim (Jobim's Finest Hour)
Remember - Irving Berlin (Ella Fitzgerald)
Remember - Sondheim (A Little Night Music)

Revenge - James Horner (Braveheart)
Revenge - James Horner (Legends of the Fall)

Run Away - Ricky Ian Gordon (Bright Eyed Joy)
Run Away - Michael Giacchino (Lost)

Satellite - Elvis Costello (Spike)
Satellite - Dave Matthews Band (Under the Table and Dreaming)
Satellite - Aimee Mann (Bachelor #4)

Save Me - Aimee Mann (Magnolia)
Save Me - Dave Matthews (Some Devil)

Silver and Gold - Neil Young (Silver and Gold)
Silver and Gold - U2 (Rattle and Hum)
Silver and Gold - Burl Ives

So Lonely - Dave Brubeck (Songs)
So Lonely - The Police (Outlandos d' Amor)

Still - Elvis Costello (North)
Still - Maury Yeston (Titanic)

Story of My Life - Leonard Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein's New York)
Story of My Life - Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again)

The Storm - Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid)
The Storm - Michael John LaChiusa (Marie Christine)
The Storm - Phillip Glass (Dracula)

Sunrise - Norah Jones (Feels Like Home)
Sunrise - The Who (Maximum R&B)

Surrender - Elvis Presley (#1 Hits)
Surrender - U2 (War)

Temptation - Diana Krall (The Girl in the Other Room)
Temptation - Elvis Costello (Get Happy!)

Thank You - Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking)
Thank You - Frank Loesser (the Most Happy Fella)

The Battle - Alan Menken (Alladin)
The Battle - Alan Menken (Beauty & the Beast)

This Time - Smashing Pumpkins (MACHINA)
This Time - Tracy Chapman (Crossroads)

Too Far Gone - Elvis Costello (Almost Blue)
Too Far Gone - Neil Young (Freedom)

Too Much - Dave Matthews Band (Crash)
Too Much - Elvis Presley (#1 Hits)

Tunnel of Love - Dire Straits (Making Movies)
Tunnel of Love - Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love)

Wait - The Beatles (Rubber Soul)
Wait - Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd)

Wedding Song - Kurt Weill (Threepenny Opera)
Wedding Song - Tracy Chapman (Telling Stories)

What Is It? - Benjamin Britten (Peter Grimes)
What Is It? - Cassandra Wilson (Glamoured)

When You're Alone - Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love)
When You're Alone - John Williams (Hook)

Where in the World - Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden)
Where in the World - Maury Yeston - Phantom

Why? - Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman)
Why? - Elvis Costello (The Juliet Letters)

Wouldn't It Be Nice? - Michael John LaChiusa (The Wild Party)
Wouldn't It Be Nice? - The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)

Until Whenever

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reason Why Sesame Street Is Leagues Beyond, Say, Barney #2,487
Try to imagine a line like this happening on Barney:

Grover, in what is a recurring feature, has just shown us a short video about another culture, here kids in the Philippines playing in a park. When the video finishes, we see that Grover is at the top of a slide, just like the kids were in one part of the video. The videos are usually more culturally illuminating than this one was - we usually see kids making things specific to their culture, or dancing native dances, or whatnot; here we just saw the kids playing in a park. So, Grover says, "Well, so that wasn't educational per se." Try to imagine Barney saying "per se." You can't. And that's one of the things Sesame Street has always done so well - not talked down to kids. No, my toddlers don't know what per se means. But, thanks to Grover, they will sooner than they might have otherwise.

Oh - and before going down the slide, Grover says, "Top of the slide, ma!" Tell me that ain't just a bit of genius.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Musical Theater Songs

10. "Somewhere" - West Side Story - Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim
Maybe Bernstein's most purely gorgeous melody.

9. "Loving You" - Passion - Stephen Sondheim
A delicate and fragile bit of shimmering songwriting, as direct and classic a song as Sondheim has written.

8. "Migratory V" An uplifting pure melody about how much more humanity can achieve when it works together. Rapturous.

7. "Gethsemane" - Jesus Christ Superstar - Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice
Jesus doubts his destiny in the garden after the last supper. The folksy acoustic opening gives way to a majestic and angry diatribe. A tour de force for a singer that many have tried to master--none as successfully as original concept recording Jesus Ian Gilian.

6. "How Glory Goes" - Floyd Collins - Adam Guettel
A dying man questions god about what heaven will be like. Heartbreaking.

5. "Sunday" - Sunday in the Park with George - Stephen Sondheim
Sondheim's choral masterpiece.

4. "Rose's Turn" - Gypsy - Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim
Mama Rose's fabled nervous breakdown. Lots of legendary singers have essayed this ultimate character piece - my favorite just may be Betty Buckley's.

3. "No More" - Into the Woods - Stephen Sondheim
A father and son try to come to terms with the challenges life places before us. Such a plaintive, disarmingly simple, wistful song.

2. "The Impossible Dream" - Man of La Mancha - Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh
So overdone and misinterpreted it's almost tragic. The point of the song isn't, as so many singers insist it is, that by trying to do impossible things one can achieve the impossible, that trying hard can accomplish anything, but instead that trying, believing, in the face of literal impossibility can have immense power. It's the "impossible" dream, not the "very unlikely" dream.

1. "Epiphany" - Sweeney Todd - Stephen Sondheim
A desperate man completely snaps and decides that humanity does not deserve the life it's been gifted with. A brilliant piece of playwriting through song.

Until Whenever
My Back Hurts

That's what happens when you have to pack up a house and unpack a house. Lots of lifting heavy boxes over and over and over again. The hiatus wasn't the most restful, with the chaos of moving and all, but it wasn't work, which is always saying something. Can't find a good meme to kick things off post-hiatus, as is my tradition, so you'll have to settle for this hodgepodge of pop-culturey reflections from the last two weeks-plus:

Losing the Ti-Faux, even the crappy, prone to crashing, temperamental one I have, for a week is stressful. I missed two new Studio 60s, How I Met Your Mothers, Gilmore Girlses, Veronica Marses- and in this day and age of instant gratification, I can't even just go and buy any of them (save the Studio 60s). Now I have to try and avoid finding out who the Veronica Mars rapist was until (if) they repeat the episodes. Stupid moving.

Managed to not miss any Offices somehow, and am very much liking the integrated Scranton office. (I also love that they are trimming what at first looked like a just goofily huge cast by having Michael drive off the newcomers one by one).

Finally finished watching the second season of Veronica Mars and have to admit to not fully understanding the resolution. Even more embarrassingly, I knew who did it going in (it was spoiled for me somewhere) and it still didn't make sense. I love the show, but it really makes me feel, well, stupid.

Almost through the sixth season of The West Wing. I'll tell you, I dimly remember hearing much mockery of the "Toby and Josh fight" episode, but Schiff was just stunning in it, especially in his breakdown scene near the end with Alison Janney. All in all, I like this season a lot, and have to admit to respecting John Wells much for keeping the style, tone, and spirit of Sorkin's show alive so well.

The Nets lost six in a row. Why do thy have so much trouble starting a season strongly??

The twin rugrats have fallen deeply in love with a horrid budget kids DVD entitled The Wheels on the Bus. The acting, production values, camerawork, and writing are so bad that the whole enterprise reminds me of nothing so much as porn. Which is strange.

Am reading and very much enjoying the mammoth new Walt Disney biography. The dilemma is that I don't really want to take it on the train, given its heft. Luckily, I just got back a lost (paperback) copy of The Handmaid's Tale, which I was about a third of the way through before losing. I was absolutely loving it and am very eager to dive back in.

Also finally was able to get my self to a comic book store, and will on the PATH train later be reading the new Civil War, Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, New Avengers, Astonishing X-Men, and Ultimate Power issues. Wee!!

Got my traditional Christmas CD - this year it was Aimee Mann's new One More Drifter in the Snow a somewhat subdued and yet lovely collection of mostly classics with a few new tunes. Not sure how or when it happened, but I think I am in love with Aimee Mann.

That's all I got for now. Good to be back amongst the blog-o-world.

Until Whenever

Friday, November 17, 2006

What the Flagston Kids and Mater Would Say If the Pater Turned Cannibal (And if They Were Able to Communicate from Beyond the Grave)

Yes. A hiatus. (I hereby nominate the laborious set-up of the title above and its resolution as the lamest joke ever).

Sorry for our absence from the elctro-magnetic waves, but work and a move have slammed poor Tosy and Cosh hard. We will be gone for two weeks or so while a move-in-two-parts is made and Internet access is rare and precious, but will return for the glory that is December renewed and re-invigorated (or so is the hope). An early happy Thanksgiving to all!!

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

All-TIME - (Hah!)

Time magazine has followed up its previous lists of the 100 best novels and 100 best movies of all time with its hot-off-the-presses 100 best albums of all time list (which does not rank the 100 but simply lists them by decade). Overall the list doesn't make me particularly angry or overjoyed - for the artists where I know enough of their albums to have an opinion I was non-plussed a few times (Love & Theft is a better album than Time Out of Mind). I am somewhat amused by the token efforts to be inclusive - the odd country album, rap album, jazz album - without really trying (I'd love for one of these lists to someday recognize the genius that is the original score album of West Side Story, or that classical music is put on albums), but that's par for the course.

For posterity's sake, let's see which of the 100 best albums ever I own:

Albums I Have:

Kid A - Radiohead
OK Computer - Radiohead
Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan
Achtung Baby - U2
Nevermind - Nirvana
Out of Time - REM
Document - REM
The Joshua Tree - U2
Graceland - Paul Simon
London Calling - The Clash
Who's Next - The Who
After the Gold Rush - Neil Young
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
Abbey Road - The Beatles
At Folsom Prison - Johnny Cash
Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan
Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan
A Love Supreme - John Coltrane
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis

Albums I Want to Have
Most of these are albums I want to get, either because of stuff I've read about them or because of what I have heard off of them:

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - Lucinda Williams
Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Horses - Patti Smith
Red Headed Stranger - Willie Nelson
Blue - Joni Mitchell
Moondance - Van Morrison
Astral Weeks - Van Morrison
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music - Ray Charles
King of the Delta Blues Singers - Robert Johnson
In the Wee Small Hours - Frank Sinatra

Until Whenever

Monday, November 13, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Random Top Ten Elvis Costello Songs

10. "Toledo" - The opener to Costello and Bacharach's collaborative effort, and an insinuatingly subtle bit of songwriting featuring one damn twisty melody line.

9. "Pump It Up" - As on many a Costello track, it's keyboard player Steve Nieve's contribution that makes the song--without that insistent, angry organ this song wouldn't be nearly as good as it is.

8. "Alison" - Damn impressive for a first album cut.

7. "Veronica" - Who else writes about the elderly? Such a bittersweet song.

6. "Alibi"- I love the audacity and sheer inventiveness of this laundry list of lame excuses for bad behavior.

5. "Accidents Will Happen" - A classically constructed pop song.

4. "All This Useless Beauty" - One of Costello's most beautiful pieces of songwriting.

3. "Tokyo Storm Warning" - I love the Sesame Street-theme guitar figure, and the very Dylan-esque litany of evocative, yet not concrete, lyrics. ("The sky fell over cheap Korean monster-movie scenery/And spilled into the mezzanine of the crushed capsule hotel/Between the Disney abattoir and the chemical refinery/And I knew I was in trouble but I thought I was in hell.")

2. "God Give Me Strength" - This is already getting covered like crazy - in 50 years this just might be the one song Costello is most remembered for--an instant classic.

1. "What's So Funny? (About Peace, Love, and Understanding)" - I hate so much that my favorite Costello song is one this remarkable, prolific, gifted songwriter didn't actually write. But it is.

Until Whenever
Calendar: Marked

Sorry for the absence--work, life, family - all have their own ways of smothering the blogging.

The second trailer for The Simpsons Movie has me mightily encouraged. I won't spoil it; just click away and laugh, and laugh. (And marvel at the animation. The real animation. You'll see. It really is sharper-looking than the TV stuff without being ostentatiously "different.")
Until Whenever

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Random Top Ten
Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Plays (non-musicals)

10. M. Butterfly (David Henry Hwang) - How I wish I had had the chance to see John Lithgow in this. A tragic, sparsely beautiful play about the boundaries of love. The Crying Game before The Crying Game.

9. Deathtrap (Ira Levin) - The most ingeniously constructed play I've ever come across. Wonderfully twisty.

8. The Piano Lesson (August Wilson) - I love Wilson, and this is my favorite of his. Beautifully musical and more self-contained and tighter than much of is other work.

7. True West (Sam Shepard) - Shepard's best, a kind of duel for two intense actors. The original production starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise is legendary.

6. Equus (Peter Schaffer) - Intense drama about a horse-obsessed teenager. Wonderfully meaty monologues abound, and the two leads (the boy and his psychiatrist) are two of the best parts in the canon.

5. Love! Valour! Compassion (Terrence McNally) - McNally's play about a group of gay friends and lovers spending three summer holiday weekends together is achingly sad and poignant, joyous and wistful.

4. Angels in America (Tony Kushner) - An epic two-parter about homosexuality, the end of the millennium politics, love, faith, and about a dozen other things.

3. Our Town (Thornton Wilder) - The quintessential school play. So simply constructed, so plain-spoken, and yet in the end such a deep well of profundity.

2. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Becket) - Has a more devastating stage direction ever been written than the famous final one here?

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

1. Death of a Salesman - This play gets under my skin and won't get out. Worth seeking out the filmed stage version with Dustin Hoffman in the lead (and John Malkovich as Biff.

Until Whenever
Hollywood Strikes Again

Last night's How I Met Your Mother was a classic, with the "Barney's new name is Swarley" stuff just great. But what had me looking forward to the episode more than anything was the guest appearance by Firefly's resident escort, the luminous Morena Baccarin. So how disappointed was I to see that Baccarin--who was hardly heavy on Firefly (see above)--now looks like every other too-thin, too-gaunt-in-the-face Hollywood starlet? Her full, round (again, hardly heavy, and still miles and miles from "fat") face had immense character, and specificity of personality. She was beautiful. On Mother, she was no more than pretty--and easily too skinny (a lesson--arms should resemble, well, arms, not twigs. Bones were meant to encase meat, yes?). Tragic, in its way.

Until Whenever

Monday, November 06, 2006

The track listing for U2's new Best Of album, U218, has been released (see below). I noted here what I thought the sixteen songs included would be. I did pretty well, missing only three of sixteen - I thought for sure their first hit off of their first album ("I Will Follow" would make the cut, but wasn't to be. (It'll be a bonus track on the UK album, it seems). I also thought that the boys would want both Pop and Zooropa represented, but I was wrong, and neither "Discotheque" or "Stay (Faraway So Close) made the cut. The three songs I didn't predict were the b-side "The Sweetest Thing" (which must have been much bigger in the UK than here), "the Rattle & Hum Bo Diddley pastiche "Desire," and All That You Can't Leave Behind"s "Elevation."

1. Beautiful Day

2. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

3. Pride (in The Name Of Love)

4. With Or Without You

5. Vertigo

6. New Year’s Day

7. Mysterious Ways

8. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

9. Where The Streets Have No Name

10. Sweetest Thing

11. Sunday Bloody Sunday

12. One

13. Desire

14. Walk On

15. Elevation

16. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

17. The Saints Are Coming

18. Window In The Skies

Until Whenever

Friday, November 03, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Loveland" - Sondheim - Follies (1987 London Revival Cast)
A gaudy bit of sparkly, lush, light pastiche.

2. "Thirteen" - Johnny Cash - American Recordings
One of my favorite tracks off of this album - it has a propulsive energy that keeps the album from getting too bogged down by the laconic feel of most of the tracks.

3. "Settling up the Score" - Rupert Holmes - The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Original Broadway Cast)
The very definition of rousing, a big 'ol oom-pah Broadway number.

4. "You Still Believe in Me" - Anne Sofie Von Otter - For the Stars
A delightful cover of the Beach Boys song, impeccably sung by the opera star.

5. "An English Music Hall" - Rupert Holmes - Lost in Boston
The original opening to the aforementioned Drood, replaced before its premiere by the superior "There You Are."

6. "We're Not Gonna Take It" - The Who - Tommy
Damn them defiant hippies.

7. "Pug" - Smashing Pumpkins - Adore
One of the harder tracks off of this mostly mellower Pumpkins album, with a nicely expansive, slower chorus.

8. "The Happy Medley/Alexander's Ragtime Band" - Mandy Patinkin - Mandy Patinkin
A bit from Mandy's big-time-fun happy medley.

9. "Still Hurting" - Jason Robert Brown - Last Five Years (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording)
A tender, bruised breakup ballad, marked by some sprightly violin and cello interplay, that crescendos by the end into an expression of more anger than sadness.

10. "Berliner Messe 4. Zweiter Alleluiavers" - Arvo Part - Te Deum
Quiet and reverent.

Until Whenever
Thank God

From eonline:

Leno Turns Down Oscars

"What comedian in his right mind would turn down the chance to host the Oscars? Jay Leno, that's who. "

Until Whenever

Thursday, November 02, 2006

30 Rock
It looks like NBC is going to give new shows Studio 60, 30 Rock, and Friday Night Lights the sweeps shot to succeed - each will run (as of now, at least) throughout sweeps. I haven't seen FNL, and have already opined on S60, but haven't said boo about 30 Rock.

I've actually only seen the pilot and one more episode, although last night's fourth episode is Ti-fauxed and awaiting. So far I'm liking, if not in love with, the show. Alec Baldwin's slightly off, pompous readings are as good as advertised - in the little I saw of last night's episodes he killed merely by reciting a few ready-made catchphrases he thought should be reverse-engineered into sketches. Tracy Morgan works, I think, in small doses, but that seems to be how they're employing him here. His delivery last night of the line "make every week Shark Week" was inspired. As for the third leg in this three-legged-stool of comedy? Tina Fey is likable and natural playing herself, but falls apart when actual acting is called for. (She reminds me greatly of Jerry Seinfeld in this way). Last week's episode had a recurring bit with her single and alone Liz Lemon character choking and having to self-administer the Heimlich maneuver. The bit called for some deft physical comedy, and it was almost embarrassing how badly she executed it. It brought to mind nothing more than first-year acting classes having to improvise a silent, natural moment in front of the class. Contrast that moment with a moment from last night's ep in which Lemon's colleague kicks a chair on wheels in anger and falls. Expertly executed slapstick.

Still - it's not as if they are pushing the physical comedy, and, like I said, when she's simply plying herself (which is most of the time) Fey is fine. And overall the show has a nicely honed mildly surrealist vibe going - the jokes tend to be smaller and more "sketch-comedy" like than sitcom-like, and that works well. I, for one, am hoping that the show finds an audience.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sound the Hunting Horn
The NBA season begun last night, although my beloved New Jersey Nets don't kick-off until tonight. As I did last year, I'll be predicting the finishes for the conferences, and, I'm sure, as I did last year, I'll be woefully inaccurate.

1. New Jersey Nets - A cock-eyed optimist am I. Seriously though, while this may be a bit over-optimistic, the Nets do figure to have a good year - rookie Marcus Williams, in particular, is promising to (finally) be the trusted backup to Jason Kidd they've never really had. Add a maturing Richard Jefferson, a Vince Carter in a contract year (read: with something to prove), a primed-for-breakout Nenad Kristic, and a proven runner and shooter in Eddie House and a Nets final appearance is hardly pie-in-the-sky.

2. Miami Heat - As much as I don't like the team, and loathe Alonzo Mourning, what they did last year can't be overlooked. But O'Neal just gets older and Wade won't be able to carry the team all by his lonesome. I'm predicting that last year will be a fluke, an experiment that paid off but that won't again. (Then again, I predicted that they would barely make the playoffs last year - so what do I know).

3. Cleveland Cavaliers - The coronation of LeBron James is coming, but not imminent. He still has no Scottie Pippen to join forces with.

4. Chicago Bulls - A lot of seers are predicting a conference finals berth for the Wallace-fied Bulls. They'll be good, but that good?

5. Detroit Pistons - Like most, I think the loss of Wallace will deal a real blow.

6. Washington Wizards - Gilbert Arenas is the real deal, but what's that old saw about defense again?

7. Orlando Magic - Because I'd like to see Grant Hill get one last swing at the playoffs.

8. Indiana Pacers - A shell of what they were just two years ago, but hardly horrible.

9. Milwaukee Bucks - The team I always forget about.

10. Toronto Raptors - A growth year that leaves them out of the playoffs, but barely.

11. Philadelphia Sixers - A team that needs to rest, badly.

12. - Boston Celtics - Youth that will still be too young.

13. - New York Knicks - I am hoping fervently for the arrogant Isaiah Thomas to fall flat.

14. - Charlotte Bobcats - Still floundering.

15. - Atlanta Hawks - Still hopeless.


1. Dallas Mavericks - Nothing has changed, has it? And they should be just as hungry after a tough fight against Miami in last year's Finals.

2. San Antonio Spurs - Again, the core is still all there - the core that won it all a year ago.

3. Phoenix Suns - I'm guessing that Stoudamire won't be the same post-surgery, and that without him the Suns are very good but not champion-level.
4. LA Clippers - The revenge of the downtrodden!

5. Houston Rockets - Is this the year the lauded McGrady-Ming combo finally gets it all together?

6. Utah Jazz - The Bulls of the West.

7. LA Lakers - Kobe'll get them into the playoffs, but won't have enough to work with for much more.

8. - Denver Nuggets - Dysfunctional. And Carmello Anthony just isn't at the same level as Wade and James, no matter how much the powers-that-be wish he were.

9. - New Orleans Hornets - Chris Paul will need another year or two to make this team playoff-level.

10. - Sacramento Kings - When will Artest implode this year?

11. - Memphis Grizzlies - When your star breaks his foot in the summer . . .

12 - Golden State Warriors - You know, I'm not sure I have any idea who is on this team. Baron Davis?

13 - Seattle Supersonics - Stuck in the mud.

14 - Portland Trailblazers - Will compete mightily with Atlants for the league's worst record.

East Finals

Nets over Heat

West Finals

Dallas over Suns

NBA Finals

Nets over Dallas

What? A man can dream.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Short and the Long of It

What are the shortest and longest tracks in my music collection?


The shortest track, at 2 seconds, is the "Bad Robot" sign-off, taken from an early bootlegged version of the Lost soundtrack. The shortest song or piece of music proper, as opposed to transition pieces, dialogue snippets, and brief film score snippets, (and yes, this is very subjective) is the "Itchy and Scratchy" end credits bit ("they fought, they bit, they fought and fought and bit . . .") at 17 seconds.


The longest track, technically, is a raw file of a U2 concert, unedited - 1:24:47. The longest actual piece of music is the Scherzo from Mahler's Second Symphony - at 32 minutes and 35 seconds the longest movement in my classical collection. The longest song (i.e., one sung piece) is Bob Dylan's epic "Highlands," a sixteen minute and 31 second pastoral, ambling ballad.

Until Whenever

Monday, October 30, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Queen Songs

10. "The Prophet's Song" - A deep cut off of A Night at the Opera that indulges in a delightfully excessive multi-tracked a capella round in the middle of the song.

9. "Another One Bites the Dust" - In the top five bass lines ever, no?

8. "Who Wants to Live Forever?" - It's Queen, Broadway style!

7. "Ogre Battle" - A deep cut off of Queen II that rocks as hard as anything they've ever done, with a great speed-riff from May.

6. "Under Pressure" - Come to think of it, Queen has two songs in the top five bass lines ever.

5. "Innuendo" - A late-addition to the list of epic, somewhat schizophrenic Queen songs. A great driving synth-and-guitar riff defines the main section, while the delicate acoustic middle is highlighted by some blistering flamenco-style fretwork.

4. "Somebody to Love" - Queen-as-gospel band. Love that run at the end.

3. "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" - I'm actually somewhat bored by this combo by know, given how remarkably overplayed it is, but that's hardly the song's fault.

2. "Show Must Go On" - Freddie Mercury's dying wail of anger and defiance. A man who knows death is near, and singing like it.

1. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Well, duh.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the Nightstand

A quick buzz through some recent readin':

Saturday, Ian McEwan - This didn't have the intricacies or scope of his excellent Atonement, but the forced limitations (the action all takes place within one day) have their own pleasures, and I liked how he was able to craft such an obviously post-9/11 novel that didn't feel gimmicky or unnatural. And I'm not sure that anyone else writing today can craft a sentence like McEwan.

Bono: In Conversation, Michka Assayas - This series of interviews with my favorite rock singer didn't hit me as hard as it did Lefty, but I did fin it an engaging, illuminating read. You get the sense that Bono has a very well-honed realization of just how ridiculous he can come across, and more importantly that he just doesn't care. His impassioned likening of the crisis in Africa to a modern-day Holocaust, to a moral tragedy that easily surpasses it, and one that we are just as morally implicit in ignoring as those who looked the other way then is stark, discomfiting, and damn hard to argue with.

House of M - Brian Michael Bendis - The library finally coughed this one up. Not great, but an entertaining enough "alternate future." The stuff with Steve Rogers as a lonely old man was quite effective, I thought, and I like how the seeds of Planet Hulk and Civil War are clearly visible.

All Aunt Hagar's Children, Edward P. Jones - Jones' recently released collection of short stories is an exquisite, beautiful thing (and I'm only halfway through). The more of Jones I read, the more I become convinced that he's going to be read, studied, and lionized, not just in the years and decades, but centuries to come. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I can't help it - I honestly believe that readers in the 2100s will be reading him like we do Shakespeare today.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Buried Beauties* - Debra Messing

In her many years on Will & Grace Messing never got the salivating attention from menfolk that many other hit TV actresses seemed to. And yet I'd say she's much more beautiful - in a classic way, too, and not in the quirky way that I'm usually drawn to - than, say Jennifer Aniston or Eva Langoria.

Until Whenever

*Correction--As Roger Green has quite reasonably pointed out, Debra Messing, lack of Maxim covers notwithstanding, is hardly a "buried" beauty. Consider this a "Not-Particularly-Buried-Beauty" post, instead.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ranting about iTunes

OK, so the first one isn't really iTunes' fault, but rather the labels. But, damn, the greed is just disheartening. A few months ago I read something about an album of sea shanties that was being put out, with all sorts of contemporary rock/pop artists doing renditions of classic sea shanties. One of the songs was to be sung by Bono. Great! While I really didn't feel the need to buy the entire album's worth, 99 cents for a Bono track was a no-brainer. When the album finally popped up on iTunes, though, a small handful of the tracks were "album only" - not for separate resale. Including Bono's. Argh.

A month ago I heard about the new album of duets Tony Bennett was doing, including one with, you guessed it, Bono. Great! 99 cents for Bono sailing through a standard with Bennett. No brainer. "Album only." Much louder argh.

Then today I went to the site to get Fiona Apple's rendition of "Sally's Song" from the just-reissued Nightmare before Christmas soundtrack, which includes a bonus CD of artists covering some of the songs. I already own the album, and have no desire to hear any of the other covers. But Fiona as Sally for 99 cents? No - of course - "album only."

The greed amazes me. But so does the shortsightedness. They could have made 99 cents off of me. Instead they made nothing. Maybe I'm daft, but it seems unlikely to me that there are that many people willing to buy the whole album for that one track or two. It seems like they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they have the market research to show that this is the financially smarter move - that enough customers will fork over the $9.99 to overcome the 99 cents they lose from people like me. But either way it's a crappy way to do business. Isn't it really just a form of bait and switch to offer 99 cents a track - except for the racks they suspect will be most enticing? Isn't that, you know, unethical?

The second issue I have is iTunes fault, though. Two weeks ago I paid my $1.99 to get the second ep of Heroes. I had sen the first, missed the second, and had the third taped. But the download didn't work. So late last week, I contacted customer service, and they tried to fix it. Still didn't work. This past weekend, NBC re-aired episodes two, three, and four. So now I had on tape the ep I had missed. But when I told customer service that I wanted a refund, since they had failed to deliver the product and now I had it through other means, they refused, saying "all sales are final."

?!?!?! What "sale?" I never received the product I paid for! But they insist on taking a third try at actually delivering it rather than giving me a refund. So much for Apple's vaunted "we make your life easier" ethos.

Until Whenever

Update: Customer service responded to my complaint abou the "all sales final" thing and gave me a free credit for a video, in addition to getting the Heroes ep to finally download. So yay iTunes!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Novels

My favorite novels, the stack that would remain if I had to winnow my library down to just ten novels, no more, no less:

10. Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson – Hard, epic science fiction that made me believe, not just that we might colonize Mars someday, but that we already had.

9. Never Let Me Go, Kashiro Iguro – A chilling, remarkably subtle portrayal of a not-to-distant future.

8. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver – A virtuoso display of research and narrative control, with four sisters alternately telling the story of their families missionary move to Africa.

7. The Stand, Stephen King – Still the high-water mark of apocalyptic fiction.

6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon – A sweet, wildly entertaining, funny, sad tale of brother comic book artists making their mark in the golden age of the industry.

5. The Green Mile, Stephen King – King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is easily his finest novella, and this close to his finest novel – how long before he goes back to the prison well?

4. Watership DownA>, Richard Adams – It’s a cliché at this point to insist that this novel about a community of bunny rabbits is brilliant and insanely gripping. But it is.

3. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving – Irving’s best, a hilarious and off-kilter tale of a fated disabled young boy. Maybe top on my list of books I’ve only read once but need to read again.

2. The Known World, Edward P. Jones – I’ve read the number one book below six times, and it’s long been my go-to favorite-ever novel. And yet I seriously considered putting this first. It’s only a few years old and I’ve already read it twice – and I certainly will read it again.

1. It, Stephen King – King’s statement novel, the one that puts in one place all of his main themes and preoccupations. At nearly 1,200 pages, it should feel bloated, but the logical and sturdy structure keeps it from feeling so.

Until Whenever

Friday, October 20, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Next to You" - Stephen Sondheim - Bounce (World Premiere Recording)
I've had this score- Sondheim's last (although hopefully not last-ever) for several years now and I still can't quite get a handle on it. Very old-fashioned in some ways, with some fine melodies, but it doesn't quite hang together.

2. "The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold)" - Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
I love Radiohead, but, much like Bounce, I haven't been able to really get a sense for this one. May just be a bit too esoteric in the end for me.

3. "Darling Pretty" - Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart
I love the sweetly old-fashioned, Irish-sounding fiddle and guitar opening, leading directly into some good-ole, laid-back Knopfler rock.

4. "Making Love Alone" - Bernadette Peters - Sondheim, Etc.
A joyful, bold-and-brassy ode to masturbation.

5. "Love Is Blindness (Live)" - U2 - Stay (Faraway So Close ) (Single)
Simply a great live performance of this most moody of U2 songs.

6. "The Wedding" - Elvis Costello - My Flame Burns Blue (Live with the Metropole Orkest)
This great live album of Costello and big jazz orchestra features as a bonus disc a suite from Costello's ballet score Il Sogno. This is one of those cuts, and it's a fine, romantic, pulsating bit of music.

7. "Quartet: Acknowledgement (Part I)" - John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
Raptorous. One of the great recordings of the 20th century.

8. "Poor Thing" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Patti LuPone) - Sweeney Todd (Original 2005 Broadway Revival Cast)
The famous (or infamous) reduced orchestrations (played on stage by the cast) for last year's revival really do a fine job of allowing someone like me 0 ho knows this core backwards and forward - to hear the music differently.

9. "Broadway Baby" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Mandy Patinkin) - Sings Sondheim
In this live concert recording, Patinkin does a long, drawn-out slow burn before letting t rip at the very end with some traditional Mandy crazy belting. Love it.

10. "Stavisky Suite Two" - Stephen Sondheim - Stavisky (Score)
A vaguely decadent-sounding cut from one of Sondheim's few film scores.

Until Whenever
Studio 60 Warming Up

This week's episode was the first that made me really like this show, the first to encourage me about the potential for these characters and this universe. Why? Many things, but most of all it was Sarah Paulson.

Like many I've been kind of nonplussed by her performance so far, but in last night's episode I really started to develop a strong affinity for the character - she finally gelled. Part of it was the admittedly kind of bald device of having her interviewed, and the personal details and backstory Sorkin gave us through that interview. But most of it was Paulson. The way she curled up on the couch; the weary, good-natured smile; the subtle opening up as the conversation progressed. But what really sealed the deal was that final scene with Matthew Perry's Matt.

I've read other bloggers who found the scene flat and stale, but I have to admit to being blown away by it - I totally bought the sexual, but more than sexual, romantic, tension between the two in that scene, and while, again, Sorkin gets some of the credit, I think most of it goes to the actors. They got me. Especially Paulson, who, in very small ways, managed to convey the storm of conflicting emotions running through Harriet's head in those moments - look at the way she put her hands on Matt's chest. Sure, there was the game of whether she was going to embrace him or not, but more impressive was how in the very gesture itself she managed to convey to us that Harriet herself didn't know what she was going to do either. A great piece of acting.

The other thing that finally worked for me was this whole notion of quality TV. The pitch by the British reality TV producer was impeccably written and delivered, and wholly believable. I believed that the vile show he was describing would be pitched and that it would be a hit. This one scene made the show's raison d'etre, that opening Judd Hirsch rant, make sense. The embarrassment of riches on TV these days made the rant seem ill-timed at first. "No, actually, Hirsch character (Sorkin), TV isn't a wasteland, it's a font of treasures." But this scene with Jordan and the reality TV pitcher made the whole rant coalesce - this is what Sorkin, and his characters, are trying to rise above. Bad reality TV that plays to our basest emotions - stuff like Flava Flav auditioning whores, or that Fox show where people were forced to screw each other over and make up tragedies to win a pot of cash. And bashing that kind of stuff I can get behind.

The focus on Harriet's religion also made the other bugaboo Sorkin is taking aim at more clear, too. Because as free as TV is, as adult and sophisticated as the content has gotten, honestly dealing with religion - either in the guise of an honest portrayal or an honest critique - is still a great big no-no (although baby steps were made this year--by Battlestar Galactica and Big Love in particular). If these are going to his two big themes, the two big evils of the current TV environment that he's going to attack, then this show could (could) end up being well worth the time.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost Thoughts

Comic fans are familiar with the strange, somewhat ill-defined powers of The Scarlet Witch. She has the ability to affect "probability fields," so, for example, she can make a gun misfire by messing with probability--if the gun has odds of misfiring in say 1 in a million, she makes them one in one.

I'm starting to wonder if the Lost writers aren't going to use the same device as their deus ex machina to explain away all of the pre-flight relationships that tie together the flight 815 survivors. After all, some kind of internally consistent, logical explanation for all of those coincidences (Locke inspecting Sayid's lovers' house, Sawyer being served coffee by Kate's Mom, Sayid being "taught to torture" by Kelvin, Jack not saving Shannon's Dad, etc.) is likely impossible at this point. Especially since the season finale last year - and this year's premiere - strongly imply that the plane's being pulled down to the island was an accident, not intentional. So the notion that all of these people were somehow manipulated to be on the plane so that they could be "collected" on the island falls apart.

But what if the "electro-magnetic" anomaly also had the power to warp probability? That would allow for an easy, no-muss, no-fuss explanation for all of the coincidences. And maybe even all of the reoccurring appearances of the numbers as well. Sure, it would be somewhat of a cheat, but one I could live with - it would make internal sense and it would tie directly into the whole Dharma experiments angle.

One thought on last night's stellar episode. When Hurley finds Desmond, Desmond says something about a speech Locke gave. Of course we hear that speech later on, and the question is raised - is Desmond - maybe as a result of being at the center of the "electro-magnetic" release that imploded the hatch and made the sky pretty last season - psychic? Or had he traveled into the future? I'm voting for the latter. One, it's more interesting. Two, one sci-fi trope involves the notion that when teleporting, only people themselves travel - clothes are left behind. What if the same hold for time travel?

Until Whenever