Friday, December 31, 2004

"Red Tide"

So I've been thinking about the whole tsunami in Asia thing. Over 80,000 dead the last time I saw the count. That''s an unbelievable number of people, y'know? It's like wiping out the town of Norman (now there's a thought). The human mind has a tough time wrapping itself around something that big. It's too big, really, and we just sorta glaze over. We sit there and kinda go, "wow, that's a lot of people. I can't believe that." We aren't really able to comprehend it. It's too epic to be tragic, really.

Stalin once said that one death was a tragedy, and a thousand was a statistic. Considering how many thousands of his own people he killed, he'd know, I guess. But, cruel and callow as he was, Stalin had a point. We can understand the great loss of a single life. But you can't magnify that by thousands and expect it to have the same impact. It goes from being something which is personally relevant to something which is globally relevant.

This isn't to discount the great suffering these people are going through. God knows I wouldn't want to do that. This is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions. It's just that this is too big for a person to cope with. So we don't. We sorta turn it into something else. We turn it into history.

Oddly enough, I'm reminded of a passage from Douglas Adams's classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The earth has just been destroyed, and Arthur Dent, the hapless protagonist, is attempting to reconcile that idea with his own understanding of the way reality works:
He was now six light-years from the place the Earth would have been if it still existed.

The Earth.

Visions of it swam through his nauseated mind. There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab--the supermarket had gone, everyone in it was gone.

Maybe the human mind just wasn't designed to handle this scale of death and destruction. Perhaps that's best, though. I mean, I'd hate to think what the world would have to be like for us to be able to cope with a death toll that high.

But really, the one positive aspect of this whole thing is that we're seeing people behave like decent human beings again. We're seeing the world pull together and do whatever it takes to help the victims of this disaster. Folks are donating money, clothes, food, time, their lives to help out the people who've suffered because of this. It makes you think that maybe, just maybe, humanity has a chance after all.


Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "No Mother"

"At The Speedway At Nazareth I Made No Mistake"

So we've reached the fallows of the year, the tail end of 2004. I'm just glad to have reached this day in one piece and relatively healthy and sane (for a given value of "healthy" or "sane," mind you).

The notion of 2005 scares the hell out of me in a lot of ways. I have no idea what will become of me or where I'll be as the year progresses. I know I've said that in the past--hell, the past year seems like it shouldn't have happened, like I should have been somewhere else. I know I said several times "I don't know where I'll be come [fill in the blank month]." Admittedly, that's because I kept thinking I was about to graduate, but then I kept not graduating. Thing is, I have finished the Master's degree now, so that fear becomes just a little more real. I know I'll be in Norman until May, but after that, it's an unknown.

Of course, if I never get any of those damn grad school applications finished, I'll be going nowhere fast. Or slow. I'll be going nowhere, and not moving does not require a speed.

Well, happy end of the old year and beginning of the new, folks. Here's hoping 2005 is a good one.


Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "Outlaw Man"

Thursday, December 30, 2004

"It Was A Very Good Year"

Virtually anyone with a digital soapbox does a year in review sort of thing about this time. It's just one of those conventions that you can't really escape. Even I'm not immune. We all just seem to have this affinity for and desire to summarize the year and our achievements, happenings, and highlights/lowlights.

Of course, that all begs the question of how one goes about reviewing the past twelve months. I could give the blow-by-blow monthly review, but that requires that I remember not only the things that happened back in January of this year, but that I remember what happened when. And, given my memory, that's nigh impossible.

So instead, I'll just lump things into categories.


Academically, quite a lot has happened for me this year. I participated in another Phi Alpha Theta Conference back in early March, and again took home the Best Graduate Non-American History Paper prize. Of course, this time around, the folks from OU really didn't pay me much attention. But I don't care about them (or the fact that I'm not listed on the History Department website while every other graduate student is or has been. Americanist bastards).

The other big academic happening this year was, of course, the completion of the Master's degree this month. To say that finishing up my first advanced degree was a great relief would be a gross understatement.


This was the year of weddings. Granted, so was last year, really, but that's hardly the point. I attended four weddings this year (and could have attended about three more, if I'd had the time and the forewarning). Among the lucky newlyweds were my OU friends Jess and Dom, Ozarks buddies Heather and Sarah (in separate weddings. To men. C'mon, they were getting hitched in Arkansas, people, and you know the hillbillies ain't about to allow same-sex marriage anymore than the foolish farmers of Oklahoma), and Dim Bulb cohort Adam. I was in two of the weddings, ran sound for another, and shuttled alcohol for the fourth.

Meanwhile, though, I'm still single. This is sorta just the way things are, I think. Amazingly, this doesn't really bother me anymore.

This was also the year I got really close to Beth...just in time for her to graduate and head off for grad school in Florida. To say that I have no sense of timing is to understate the case to comical proportions. Really. My sense of timing is attrocious.


As the numerous album reviews on this blog can atest, I'm a huge music fanatic. My life is constantly filled with music, whether it's in the form of making music, listening to it, or simply appreciating it. 2004 was a decent year for music, and the year saw a few great releases from some well-established acts. Here's my top ten for 2004, in no particular order...

Wilco - A Ghost is Born: Wilco's lastest teems with musicianship and nuanced performances. The album took some time to warm up to, but the rewards were well worth it.

U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: U2 reminded everyone of why they're one of the biggest bands in the world, returning to bombastic form. And it was very, very good.

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Volume 6, Live 1964: Dylan on the verge of revolution. He's warm, funny, in fine form, and gives folks a befuddling taste of what would come less than a year later.

Old 97s - Drag It Up: After a couple of albums of slick pop, the Old 97s return to their trademark gain-drenched alt-country.

Norah Jones - Feels Like Home: Simply beautiful and relaxing, Norah's sophomore album is a simple, mellow affair sure to leave you feeling blissful.

Pearl Jam - rearviewmirror: Pearl Jam's 2-disc best of set rocks hard and reminds you why they're one of rock's giants.

Mutal Admiration Society - Mutual Admiration Society: Americana and folky bluegrass that goes down smooth and satisfies an itch I didn't even know I had. Glad it finally saw the light of day after languishing in the vault for four years.

John Mellencamp - Words and Music: Reminds you why John Mellencamp is one of the best roots rockers out there. Damn-near definitive.

Cake - Pressure Chief: Cake returns with another irony-drenched release chock-full of of good times, "hey's," and half-spoken lyrical delivery. Magic.

Mark Knopfler - Shangri-La: Beautiful, mellow, and gritty. Mark Knopfler just keeps getting better with age.


This was a pretty big year for Dim Bulb. We more than doubled our readership over the course of the year, peaking out around 170 average visitors per day. I'm still trying to figure something out though: who found our site by searching for "hot boy pron"? I mean, I'm sure they were sorely disappointed when they discovered that we did not, in fact, have any such thing, but it still begs the question of why Dim Bulb even came up as a result for such a search. Maybe some questions are best left unanswered.

I actually grew quite a bit as an artist over the past year. Look at the sort of stuff I was capable of back in January, and compare it to now. The character designs are firmly in place, but my ability to draw different poses and even a few new angles (though I'm still rather rough in that area) has greatly improved. The style has gotten less sketchy (which is fine, since the sketchiness was becoming a bit of a crutch, really).

All in all, 2004 was a big year. Lots of things happened, some things changed, some did not, but life has definitely been interesting for the past 12 months. Who knows what 2005 will bring.


Song of the Moment: Blur, "End of a Century"

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

"John Mellencamp - Words And Music"

I've been a John Mellencamp fan for most of my life. His big hits--songs like "Little Pink Houses," "Small Town," "Jack and Diane," and "Hurts So Good"--are woven into my musical consciousness, and his work has left an indelible mark on my own understanding of good music, roots rock in particular. To be honest, I think Mellencamp is one of the best roots rockers out there, and his mix of rock, Americana, and folk/country rock has a timeless quality to it that will stand the test of time.

I got his single disc greatest hits collection, The Best That I Could Do, several years ago when it first came out. I knew all the songs on it, and it's a great collection of his best-known songs for the casual fan. But, as is often the case with me, that sampling left me hungry for more, a collection that dug into Mellencamp's catalogue a little deeper. Words and Music delivers that, in spades.

Mellencamp is a phenomenal singer/songwriter who distills the best of the Midwest and injects it into his music. He's a storyteller, an everyman, a common guy who makes that both appealing and almost heroic. There is an earthiness and a homeiness to the characters and themes of his songs, and it's coupled to a rollicking, energetic, fun musical style that has evolved subtly over the years into an almost perfect roots rock/heartland rock sound.

What Words and Music does is provide an in-depth look at Mellencamp's career in non-chronological order, presenting a solid selection of worthwhile music. There's not a clunker on the two-disc set, which means you've got 37 tracks of kick-ass music. That's a lot of great stuff.

The nice thing about the set is that even the two new songs are good. Most of the time, the "brand new, never before heard" songs that are tacked onto the end of the set are just that--tacked on extras, songs that weren't good enough to make it onto a regular album, tunes that couldn't make the cut, demos or tossed-off filler that no one would really want except for those who have to have everything a particular artist puts out (these are the same sort of folks who buy Dylan's trio of early-80s evangelical Christian albums, the poor sods). But Mellencamp put effort into these two tunes, as much effort as he puts into his official albums. The first one, "This Time," sounds like a track that could have been cut by Huey Lewis & the News--and I mean that in the best possible sense. "Now More Than Ever" is a solid cut that would fit alongside any of Mellencamp's best work.

All of the big hits are here. There's too many to mention, and the songs you may not have heard--"Rain on the Scarecrow," "Rumble Seat," "Get a Leg Up," and numerous others--are just as good as the big hits. Really, there's not a dud on the whole album, and that's really saying something for a career-spanning best of collection like this. It feels epic, it feels lively, it feels exactly right. If you're a fan of roots rock and classic rock in general, do yourself a favor and go out and buy this collection. You won't be disappointed.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Human Wheels"

"Mark Knopfler - Shangri-La"

Mark Knopfler is a very consistant musician. You can count on him to issue an excellent album full of beautiful, mellow music every few years. You can count on his voice to sound gravelly in a mellow, warm sort of way. And you can definitely count on his guitar playing to be precise, well-crafted, and kickass.

Knopfler's Shangri-La is another great album from the former Dire Straits frontman. He picks up right where the mellow masterpiece The Ragpicker's Dream left off, blending American music forms with very English lyrical and thematic concerns. Musically, it's a slight departure from Knopfler's last two albums, which had flirted with Celtic and British folk overtones. In the place of those flirtations, Knopfler has crafted an album full of warm acoustics, country-rock grooves, and simple song structures that allow the feel and the flow of the music to take the forefront. The result is a batch of mellow, tuneful songs that are perfect for late night, early morning, and post-hangover times when you need something to play softly in the background.

Make no mistake, this is a play softly sort of record. It's not designed for playing at high volumes, it doesn't go in for bombast, and it doesn't feel (or even attempt to reach) epic. It's an album of simple, quiet pleasures, and it's best experienced that way. Most of the songs are mid-tempos or ballads, with a couple of more energetic rockers (such as "Boom, Like That") thrown in for variation.

Lyrically, Knopfler continues to mature and age with grace and dignity. His trademark wry wit and seemingly casual observations about the way the common man lives are all in place, and work to great effect. His examination of the enterprising capitolism of Roy Kroc in "Boom, Like That" has you rolling and thinking all at once. "5.15 am" and "Sucker Row" both examine the dangers of the highroller lifestyle; "The Trawlerman's Song" is a wonderfully mournful tune about the plight of fishermen; "Don't Crash the Ambulance" is a hysterial and acerbic examination of his brush with death after a motorcycle accident in 2003. The album is uniformly strong, though it starts to bog down midway through and the songs sort of run together, mostly due to the heavy number of mid-tempo songs on the album.

Mark Knopfler is one of the best at what he does--putting out strong, well-crafted albums each time out, always reminding you that, while he may have been a superstar once, he's decided he'd rather just play the music he wants to make now instead of headlining arena tours. The upshot of that is that the music he wants to play sounds so damn good, and we get to hear it and enjoy the fruits of his meticulous, laid-back labor.


Song of the Moment: Mark Knopfler, "Don't Crash the Ambulance"

"I Am Submerged In Armchair Leisure"

So I had this old recliner. It was one of a pair my parents bought about twenty years ago. Lazy Boy, so they're good chairs, y'know? For several years my parents were the only people allowed to sit in the recliners, mostly because my siblings and I (at the tender ages of under 10) would probably have torn them up, fought on and over them, etc. (hell, I was only recently allowed to sit on the furniture at home anyway). When my parents finally bought new chairs, the two recliners were separated--one went to my grandparents, and it essentially became my great-grandfather's (he was living with them at the time) chair. The other went went to the TV room that my brothers and I reigned over upstairs. We had our own couch and a chair, so there was room enough for all three of us.

When we moved a few years back, the TV room recliner went with us and ended up in my youngest brother's bedroom. Scott kept it for a year or so, until I moved into my apartment here in Norman. The chair came with me, and Scott got a new chair all his own that wasn't nearly as comfortable (he's still annoyed with me for having stolen his chair).

By this time, though, the chair was starting to show its age. It was rather worn, the cushioning was sagging in a couple of places, and the back of the chair was starting to have trouble. Well, at one point over the last semester or so, the back began to give out on one side almost entirely. There were two positions for the chair--fully upright, or fully reclined. Anywhere in between was going to be lopsided. About a week ago, the chair finally died at the ripe old age of about 20.

Anyway, to the point of the story--I was without a recliner. I still had my loveseat, but that's not much seating for when I have company, and I like having a recliner. I happened to mention the dilapidated state of my chair to my grandparents while I was at their house over the weekend. My grandmother's reply was, "Well, why don't you take your grandfather's old recliner?"

I should qualify what my grandmother means by "old recliner." The thing is only a few years old, as far as I can tell, and it's leather. It's beautiful. It's in perfect condition, it's comfortable to sit in, and I could never afford to purchase such a chair myself. And my grandparents want to just give it to me.

I tried to resist, I really did. I said I'd feel bad taking the chair he always sat in. I said I'd be fine without a recliner. I tried, really. And my grandmother wouldn't have it. She said they had more furniture than they really had room, and they had another chair they were wanting to move into the living room anyway. She said she knew I'd put it to good use, and that this way I could save my money and not have to try to buy a chair.

Long story short, my grandmother is a stubborn and persuasive woman, and I brought a new recliner home over the weekend.

And damn if it isn't one of the most comfortable chairs ever. My grandparents are spoiling me, I swear.


Song of the Moment: Moxy Früvous, "The Lazy Boy"

"He Never Came Down From The Mountain"

Well, I've returned to Norman. Christmas was good--hung out with the family, relaxed, ate well, slept even better (which is no mean feat when you consider I was fed by not one but both grandmothers), and got some nifty stuff for Christmas.

Among the niftiest presents were a digital camera (interesting story to relate concerning that, but we'll get to that in a moment), a bicycle (so I can stop borrowing Clif's), the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, and Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1. I got some other neat stuff, including a couple of movies I wanted, a couple of CDs (John Mellencamp's latest Best of collection, Words and Music, and my uncle's newest album. There will be reviews), and various articles of clothing and whatnot that were either requested (like a long-sleeved dress shirt and a new Beatles t-shirt) or appreciated (a new pair of khakis and a new flannel shirt).

Anyway, the camera story: thing is, this was my uberpresent from the folks this year. A nice Kodak 4 megapixel digital camera with the video recording function and all that jazz. Nice little camera, good deal, and the memory cards for it are really cheap (I bought a memory card for it earlier today. Holds 100 pictures, cost $15. Good stuff). Well, we'd opened all our presents and stuff, and had Christmas breakfast, and I was fiddling with the camera box that had everything in it. I open up the box, and there's no camera. All the cords are there, the instruction manual is in place, but the spot where the camera should be is conspicuously empty. I mention this to mom, and she nearly has a heart attack. Her worst fear realized: a major present wasn't actually taken out of the store. She starts to panic a bit, afraid that she'll never be able to get back to the store and convince them that we didn't just take the camera out of the box and claim there never was one in there.

So mom goes back to the store where she bought the camera on Sunday. She takes the box and the recepit and everything with her. The clerk checks things, and they've got only one of those cameras left. It happens to be the one that matches the serial numbers on our box. It's the camera that belongs to us. Anyway, all is well, I have my camera, and it's gravy, man.

On an annoying note, I just realized about ten minutes ago that I left my shaving kit at my parents' house. That means I don't have my glasses, contact stuff, deoderant, comb, razor, or toothbrush. Looks like I have to make a trip to Wal-Mart tonight. Joy.


Song of the Moment: REM, "Imitation of Life"

Thursday, December 23, 2004

"Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time"

Well, I head out from work here in a few minutes, and so I figure (since I won't have computer access at home) now is a good time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas/Happy Channakuh/Happy Kwanza/Bright Solstice/etc. I'll probably be back up and running either over the weekend or the beginning of next week. Until then, try to keep your nose clean, eh?


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Last Kiss"

"Can't Find A Better Man"

Ever notice how virtually every photograph of Lindsey Lohan you see features her either sans an article or two of clothing, or playing at removing her clothes? I mean, what the hell? Sure, she's cute and all, but isn't she maybe trying a little too hard to break out of the Disney mold she was cast in? Most of those pictures are just shy of porn, honestly.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Better Man"

"Twenty-Third Of December, Covered In Snow"

Ah, got to use the Van Morrison quote today! Woo! It's from the song "I Want to Roo You (Scottish Derivative)," a bouncy and fun little tune off of Tupelo Honey (one of Van's best albums, hands down).

There's still a bit of snow on the ground outside, though it's mostly frozen over with a good layer of ice. But the ice really isn't much of a problem, because all the streets and such have been sanded and salted, so things are clear if a bit gritty.

No, the real trouble this morning was, first and foremost, dragging myself out of my warm bed. Then it was dragging myself out of the warm shower. Then it was dragging myself out of the warm apartment. Then it was dragging myself from the warmth of the convenience That's about the time I noticed a pattern. But I made it to work (despite the wind chill of 0 and the actual temperature of about 11), so no worries.

Now I just have to make it to the Administration building to get my paycheck and get back to the apartment after work. No rest for the weary, I guess.

I think I'm one of about four total people up in the Academic Services area this morning. I'm pretty certain those other three or so people are employees as well. Part of me really does wonder why I even bothered coming in this week. I mean, it's not like anyone would have noticed if I wasn't in here.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Daughter"

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"The Weather Outside Is Frightful"

Man, I wish it were tomorrow, mostly because there's a really appropriate Van Morrison quote I could use. Unfortunately, it's date-specific, so it's no good to me today.

Anyway, it's snowing like all hell outside. The ground was already covered when Clif and I woke up this morning, and the snow continues unabated. This wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for that pesky north wind that's blowing 20 miles per hour across the flat, barren landscape of Norman, OK. I think my eyebrows actually went numb on the walk to work a few minutes ago, and I know my goatee was icing over. That's a bizarre feeling, let me tell you.

So Clif is going to do some research this morning, and I'm going to work on grad school applications. This afternoon, I'm sending him home (since his truck won't handle frozen roads very well, and that's exactly what we'll have come nightfall) and I'm taking Jess & Dom to the airport so they can fly to Boston for the holidays. It's excitement and adventure all over!


Song of the Moment: John Lennon, "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)"

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"So You Wanna Be A Rock'N'Roll Star?"

So I was sitting there looking at the liner notes to Ryan Adams's Gold last night, and I noticed that the song "Answering Bells" featured Adam Duritz and Benmont Tench (of the Counting Crows and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, respectively). Anyway, it occurred to me that I'd seen a similar combination before with another roots rock band, the Wallflowers. On their Bringing Down the Horse (still my favorite Wallflowers album), the song "6th Avenue Heartache" features Adam Duritz on backing vocals and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) on slide guitar.

So what I thought was this--in order to be a successful roots rock band, you apparently need Adam Duritz to do a backing vocal and a member of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to do their thing on one of your songs. Both people have to be involved on the same song, or it doesn't count.

On the positive side, at least both of those songs really rock. I mean, it'd be something entirely different if they were bad songs, y'know?


Song of the Moment: Wallflowers, "The Bleeder"

"Ryan Adams - Gold"

Ryan Adams wants desperately to be a classic rocker. He wants to be in the panthenon of rock gods alongside Tom Petty, The Boss, Van the Man, Elton John (one of his biggest supporters), and Dylan. Trouble is, he's not a classic rocker. He's a good roots rocker, perhaps, but he's not achieved classic rock status yet. On Gold, though, he makes a pretty solid bid for that status, only barely missing.

One of the most distracting things about Adams's music is playing "spot the influence." He wears his inspirations on his sleeve, and sometimes lets the songs slip from exceptional stylistic exercises into homage, where the form is greater than the substance. This makes for extremely listenable if not exceptionally substantial music.

Musically, Adams is a great songsmith, crafting excellent hooks and melodies with a deftness that most contemporary musicians would envy. He synthesizes various styles very well, so that a banjo-infused roots rock tune like "Answering Bells" fits right alongside the gospel blues of "The Rescue Blues." Adams borrows from everyone from the Rolling Stones to Elton John to Van Morrison, and most of the time it works really well. There aren't any dud songs on the album, though at 70 minutes it runs a little long.

Lyrically, Adams falls just shy of his heroes. You can tell he's striving to be Dylan and Van Morrison, and while his words flow and create excellent images, they lack the depth that would make them classic. Adams's vocal delivery is strong throughout, though sometimes the words run together in a torrent to fit them all in the phrase (think again of Dylan or Van). His voice is smooth for the former alt-country bad boy that he's supposed to be, and his vocals have a warmth and assurance that carries the songs well.

The biggest problem with the album is that most of it seems affected. The words, the music, the vocals...everything seems very calculated, very well-crafted, but not heartfelt. And ultimately, that's why the album is not a masterpiece--its very core is an affectation, albeit a very deft and compelling one.

That being said, Gold is still a great listen and contains many excellent songs. The opener, "New York, New York," has a wonderful rhythm to it, a bouncing and infectious beat that you can't help but tap your toes to. "Firecracker" is a mid-tempo rocker that begs the question, "won't you have a one-night stand with me?" and manages to sound less crass than that. "Answering Bell" is a tune that could fit on any Van Morrison early '70s album, and features Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers providing excellent backing vocals and Hammond B3 organ, respectively. "Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues" is an upbeat, raucous blues song with excellent slide guitar work by producer Ethan Johns.

All told, Gold is a great album that falls just short of perfection. What would have made it perfect was if Adams had managed to make these songs his own instead of homages to his heroes.


Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "Answering Bells"

Monday, December 20, 2004

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Apparently Clif is coming over tomorrow afternoon. He needs to do research for his Senior Seminar, and we just so happen to have access to the database he needs. Home, on the other hand, does not. Hence, a visit.

We're also going to work on our music some. My mother asked us to write a song for her parents' 50th wedding anniversary back over the summer (the anniversary was back in August). Unfortunately, we never got a chance to properly celebrate my grandparents' anniversary, mostly due to everyone being hither and yon. So I wrote up some lyrics for the song, but Clif and I never got the chance to sit down and put it to music. Well, we're going to rectify that tomorrow, hopefully. We're also just going to do some playing, because we really haven't had a chance to play in quite awhile. It'll be fun...of course, that means I need to clean up the apartment before he arrives, so that a bad report doesn't get back to mom or anything...

I apparently missed the deadline for applying to the University of Virginia. This saddens and rather upsets me; I liked the idea of possibly attending school so close to my best friend. Ah well. Hopefully, I haven't missed any other deadlines, and can actually apply to more than two or three schools this time.


Song of the Moment: Marshall Tucker Band, "Fire on the Mountain"

"Bob Dylan - New Morning"

New Morning found Bob Dylan following the same mellow, laid-back muse as John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. On the album, he sounds comfortable and content, and the feeling you get from the record is that a new morning is something should indeed be welcome.

The album starts out with the classic "If Not for You," a song also found on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (in a fairly similar if slightly smoother version). From there, Dylan ambles through another set of laid-back country tunes that extol the virtues of the simple life, simple pleasures, and the mythic America he'd crafted over the past couple of albums.

Lyrically, Dylan is loose and warm. The words craft a domestic atmosphere, a sense of the country and easy living. Dylan's vocal delivery hits halfway between his usual rasp and the throaty croon he'd used to such great effect on Nashville Skyline. A couple of the songs, such as "If Dogs Run Free" and "Three Angels," are more spoken than sung. The lyrics are nothing exceptional for Dylan: there's none of the manic apocalyptic imagery of his mid-60s electric work, none of the social consciousness of his early albums. What you have instead are lyrics which suggest a feeling of contentment and happiness and convey the notion that Dylan is comfortable with himself.

New Morning really shines musically. Dylan takes the country and Americana styles from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline and injects them with a hint of jazz on tunes like "If Dogs Run Free" and "Sign on the Window." The title track is one of Dylan's most joyous musical expressions ever, and his vocal delivery rises to match the enthusiasm of the musicians.

New Morning may not be the most defining album in Dylan's career. It may not even be his best record. But it is a good record, a collection of songs that set out to establish a mood and a feeling and accomplish exactly that. New Morning displays Dylan's songwriting at its most playful and warm, and that alone makes this record worth picking up. That it also features such memorable and entertaining tunes is an excellent bonus.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "New Morning"

Sunday, December 19, 2004

"I Remember Christmas In The Blistering Cold"

So I was at Best Buy picking up mom's Christmas present this evening, and I was standing at the checkout area waiting for the next available cashier like the sign says. Anyway, this guy walks up behind me, pauses for a second, and then says "excuse me." I let him pass, thinking he sees something he needs to look at or get at. Well, the jerk walked right up behind one of the people checking out and stood behind him to get checked out. I stand there for a second and mutter to myself, "I think that bastard just cut in front of me." There was a store employee crouched nearby, restocking batteries in a display next to the line. She hears me, looks up, giggles a bit, and then tells me to follow her. She proceeds to check me out, so I actually got done before the guy who cut in front of me.

This made me laugh.

Anyway, I've finished all of my family Christmas shopping. I still need to buy a few things for a couple of friends, but since I won't be able to give them their presents until after Christmas (and my next paycheck), those can wait.


Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "New York, New York"

"They Call Me The Breeze"

So this weekend was pretty good. Friday was a little long--work and finishing my Medieval Italy paper in the morning, driving to Ponca City in the afternoon (during which I was rather drowsy), then a rather long family dinner (those things always are long, aren't they?), and I crashed at around 11.00 Friday night (which is damn early for me). Anyway, Saturday I woke up, had breakfast (tatter-tot casserole, which is mighty tasty...and I got the leftovers from it), filled up with gas, found Dad's Christmas present (finally), and then drove back to Norman. Got back, went to Ev's, and was at Ev's from around 2.00 until 8.30 or so, with a brief pause in there when I went to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of items (on a related note, the next time I decide it would be a good idea to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the afternoon on the last Saturday before Christmas, would someone please sit on my head until the urge passes?). I crashed early on Saturday night, too (again at around 11.00 or so). Then I got up early this morning and came to work, where I've been since 9.00.

I mean, geez, that was an almost productive weekend, wasn't it? Getting things accomplished, going places, finding things, getting a decent amount of sleep...creepy.

Anyway, we're apparently open until 10.00 tonight (which I think is just a bit excessive...I mean, we've only had two students in all day, and we're not likely to get many more than that. After all, finals ended Friday, and most of the students should have (hopefully) already finished all their papers and stuff). God only knows what I'll do until then.


Song of the Moment: Jack Johnson, "Inaudible Melodies"

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Talkin' About Freedom"

So, I got my paper finished about twenty minutes ago. It's turned in and done. I am officially done with my schooling at the Univeristy of Oklahoma, and all I can say is: good riddance.

Anyway, only another twenty minutes or so of work, then I get to head off. I'll run home, pack, load up the car, and head off for Ponca City for a weekend Woo.


Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "Crash on the Barrelhead"

"To Improve Your Business Acumen"

So I'm about halfway through my paper, which is better than I thought I was doing. Means I should be able to knock about another four or five pages before bed tonight and still get to bed at a decent time, then get up and finish the paper at work tomorrow morning...just in time to turn it in before I head off for Ponca City.

Oh, something I forgot to mention that was in the package from Beth--a rather cute little Christmas ornament of an angel that she painted for me. It's got my name and the date written on the bottom of it as well, so I can remember when I got it. It reminds me a little of a female version of Earl (right hair, anyway), which I thought was rather cool.

Alright, back to writing. Still got several pages to finish before bed.


Song of the Moment: REM, "Finest Work Song"

Thursday, December 16, 2004

"Smoke Smoke, Faye Faye!"

So I had a package this evening waiting on my doorstep when I got back from work. I was expecting the box, since Beth told me it was coming, but I had no idea what it would contain.

Well, what it contained was proof of just how freakin' cool Beth is: the Cowboy Bebop manga.

The anime is, of course, one of my favorite series ever, and I'd often considered picking up the three volume set of the original manga. There's also a two volume manga called Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star, a sort of Bebop prototype with similar characters who're different (for instance, there's a guy named Spike, and he's lanky, but his character is rather different than the final product in the other manga or the anime). Anyway, Beth got me the three volumes of Bebop, which kick some serious ass. I've already read them (though I should have been working on my paper instead...but hey, manga. Why not, right?). They're very much like the anime series--episodic, stand-alone sets that all combine to tell a larger overall story, but can be taken in smaller chunks without diluting their impact. Good stuff.

Anyway, it made me all giddy and stuff getting that. Now I just gotta figure out what to get her that's as cool as that (granted, she won't be getting her present until after Christmas, 'cause I'm poor).


Song of the Moment: Yoko Kanno & the Seatbelts, "Tank!"

"It's Been A Hard Day's Night"

Work progresses on the paper. I've added another four or five pages just since I came to work this afternoon (most of the morning was spent trying to find a few new things to say for the first couple of pages of the paper. Ugh).

My boss's kids came into the Writing Center this afternoon. The younger of the two, the boy Byron, asked me what I was listening to on my headphones. I'd just popped in The Beatles' Hard Day's Night, and told him so. He asked if he could listen for a moment, as he really liked The Beatles. This surprised me a bit, first because he's so young (only eight or so), and because he's African-American. That statement sounds more racist than it was intended to be, so let me qualify--virtually every African-American student I've encountered at OU listens to rap, hip-hop, or R&B. The Beatles don't fit into any of those categories. I did not imagine that an eight-year old African-American boy would know The Beatles, I guess. Of course, then he asked me if I had a CD with "Eight Days a Week" or "Yellow Submarine" on it, and seemed genuinely sad when I said I didn't have those songs with me. Needless to say, a false assumption was shattered today, and I feel a better person for it, even if I'm still slightly amused by the fact that Byron was a Beatles fan.

Just goes to show what I've always said, though--The Beatles are the greatest band ever. Everyone knows 'em.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "And I Love Her"

"Lift My Arms To Carry On"

So I just got back from seeing Team America: World Police with Jessica and Dominic. The movie made me giggle, and Dom said he liked it, but it was pretty obvious that Jess was not amused at all. I get the feeling that Dom (who picked out the flick) will have his movie-choosing rights revoked for this one.

All in all, I wasn't really all that impressed with the flick. It had some very amusing moments (most of the songs were great), but I got the feeling that they were trying to make a very profound statement with the movie and they forgot what that statement they tried to say everything and mock everything. And that's worked in the past--look at South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, or Orgasmo (still one of the funniest and most offensive flicks ever). But this movie lack the heart of those two flicks. That sounds cheesy and cliche, but there's some truth to it.

So yeah, okay movie, glad I only paid $1.50 to see it, thought they could have done better. Though if nothing else, the puppet sex scene was a classic which shall live on in the annals of film history, and Matt Damon sitting there just saying his name over and over was great.


Song of the Moment: Godsmack, "Voodoo" (what the hell am I doing listening to modern rock? This doesn't seem natural!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Work My Hands To Make Them Strong"

Such a long day it's been. Work this morning, errands at midday, and work again this afternoon (only another hour left to go of that shift, thank goodness). I've done my research for the Medieval Italy paper and started writing. So far, I've got an introduction. But the nice this is that I know exactly what I want to argue with this paper, I know what I want to say and need to say, and writing should be fairly easy and straightforward. In other words, I shouldn't have too much trouble getting it done before I leave for Ponca City Friday.

Got to talk with Beth and Karra today during my inter-shift break. Both're doing pretty well. Beth heads back for New York this weekend, and said that the weather in Florida of all places is mimicking Oklahoma's current conditions (i.e., cold and windy). Karra was her usual boisterous self, and fun to flirt with as always (come to think of it, most of my female friends are fun to flirt with...or were, until the majority of 'em went and got married).

I'm nervous about this weekend. I don't know what's going to happen Friday night. I don't know how I'm going to react to my uncle, I don't know if one of us is going to say something to upset my grandmother, and I don't know that it won't be my mother who says it. A big part of me wishes I didn't have to go to this, but I know I need to...and, in a strange way, I want to. Sure, my uncle's abandoned us and left us for a whore of a woman, but he's still my uncle and I still love him dearly, even if he's been stupid as hell. And I do look forward to getting to see him, even if it's only briefly and I have to wear a suit for the damn thing (stupid country club rules).

Oh well, back to the paper. 19 1/2 more pages to go!


Song of the Moment: Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Inside"

"But All I've Got Is A Photograph"

So I was thinking about the past and the future tonight. I'm not really sure what brought it on. Maybe it was seeing a friend of mine writing about how one of her friends is getting ready to depart. Maybe it's the fact I talked for two hours with Heather on the phone last night.

Regardless, it seems like a chapter of my life is closing. The chapter of Chuck the Master's Student is ending, and...well, I don't know what's next, exactly. Work, for awhile. So in a sense, I'm not moving on just yet. But I won't be here in the same capacity or for the same purpose now. Now, I'm just spinning my wheels, waiting for the next chapter to begin. I'll still be working at the Writing Center, I'll still be living in the same apartment, but I won't be a student anymore. Not here, anyway. And that's going to be unusual.

Sure, I didn't want to come to OU in the first place. Anyone who has been reading this for awhile knows that. Anyone who knew my plans after leaving Ozarks knew this wasn't where I wanted to end up. But here is where I went, here is where I earned my Master's, and while familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, it also breeds comfort. I may not have always liked it here--hell, I hated it sometimes--but it was familiar. Despite my best efforts, this apartment has started to feel like home. I've made friends, found old friends, and generally settled in. And now I get the sense that that's changing. I've been feeling restless since April or so, and I can feel the urge to leave building. I have the desire to get in the car and drive somewhere for no apparent reason. I have the urge to go to Arkansas, though it would be a scattershot visit trying to catch all the people I'd want to visit (since they're no longer all grouped together in Clarksville).

I was reading something the other day--Websnark, I think it was--and talking about returning to a place where he'd spent many years and had many friends. They were fond memories, but he found himself realizing that the place he'd loved so much, the people he'd loved, were no longer there. Oh, the town was still there, and some of the people were as well, but they were...different. He was different. It was a very bittersweet realization--that they'd all grown, changed, and while they could still be friends, the nature of the relationship had to change as well. That was sort of the sense I had when I was talking with Heather last night. Oh, there's still a strong bond and connection between us. We'll always be close, dear friends, and I'll always love her dearly. But...there's a subtle sense of loss there, too, a sense that we can't go back to the way things were when we were all at Ozarks together. It's best expressed in the nature of our phone conversations. Before, we called one another to ask quick questions or to tell someone to come by a dorm room. Now, conversations are a way of touching base, catching up. I had to catch up with one of my closest friends. I had to ask her what she'd done in the four months since I'd last seen her. Four months. Part of me is sick that it's been that long since I spoke with her. I know there are extenuating circumstances--I've been busy with school and work, she's been busy settling into married life, settling into teaching, and things of that nature. But those are really just excuses. It's pretty indicative of things, too.

I understand, on an intellectual level, that this is the way of things, the way life works. I know you can never go home or cross the same river twice. I know these things. But knowing them in your head and feeling the effects they have on your heart are two very different things, right?

Anyway, it's a rather meloncholy sense, a sense of loss and sadness. Admittedly, it also means it's time to move on. It's time to add and build and grow and expand beyond myself again. When I finished junior high, I had no conception of how high school would be. When I finished high school, I couldn't imagine living without having Wendy across town or living away from my parents. When I graduated from Ozarks, I had no idea how I was going to live without all the close friends I made there: people like Heather, and Chris and JP, and Adam, and Amanda, and James, and Mel, and Bob, and any number of people I loved and saw daily and didn't think about because they were always there, and now they're not. When Beth left at the end of last semester, I wondered how I'd manage to not go insane here this semester (and only barely managed to survive, really. Beth is no more or less important than the friends I had at Ozarks, but since I spent so much time with her last year, and she was one of the few people I really connected with here at OU, the pain is a little more immediate). But we go off and live new, separate lives, gain new experiences independent of the people we were and the people we needed. Those people are still important to us, of course, but our lives branch off in tangents from our own experience.

Anyway, I'm rambling. End of semester and pre-holiday stress, I guess. Or maybe just lack of sleep, I dunno.


Song of the Moment: Ringo Starr, "Photograph"

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Tell Me Again, I Forgot"

Lord, I keep forgetting how much I hate early mornings. Dragging myself out of my warm bed to face the disturbingly cold morning today was a challenge, I'll admit. Yes, a hell of a challenge.

I finished reading Lamb last night, and I was really surprised at just how touching a novel it ended up being...I mean, for a book that contains the concept of a Jewish martial art called Jew-do.

So I was at Wal-Mart last night grabbing some needful things (food, bathroom tissue, The Big Lebowski--which was a great flick, by the way) and I saw a girl who looked startlingly like my dear friend Heather. Same facial features, though a bit shorter and with lighter-colored hair (very obviously not the girl's natural color, though). Perhaps the girl's face was a bit rounder, too, but the resemblence was very striking. So it got me thinking about Heather, and how I hadn't had a chance to talk to her since like August. So I called her up and we chatted for like two hours, and we decided there'd be serious repercussions on both sides if we didn't converse more often. Good times.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Shooting Star"

Monday, December 13, 2004

"What's So Great About The Barrier Reef?"

So I took my exam this morning. Wasn't too bad, all things considered. A couple of my Identifies were probably a little rough, and my essays contained more generalizations than specific examples at times, but I think it was a solid-enough exam, considering how much studying I did (i.e., negligible). Anyway, it's done, and now all I've got to do this week is write that 20 page paper (which I sorta know what I want to write now, and I think I've already got most of the sources. Joy!).

When I got back from my exam, I had a phone message from Beth. Apparently she's sending me a package. I had to stop for a moment and think about whether I'd done anything recently to deserve a package, and if so, what sort of package I'd then be deserving. I always have a low-level background guilt running around in my heart and soul, so there was a small part of me that was thinking the package might be one of those ticking ones, but I don't think that'll be the case. Beth's never tried to blow me up before, why would she start now (unless she didn't do so well on that paper I proofread for her, but I doubt that...)?

Oh, I've been reading more Christopher Moore. Perhaps you recall the last time I read a couple of his books, or perhaps you've read some of his stuff before. The man has...issues. Hilarious issues, but issues nonetheless. I'm currently reading Lamb, and it's been awhile since I've laughed this hard and felt this wrong for doing so. Just let me tell you this much: if you enjoy religion, have a sense of humor about it, and don't have a problem with the narrator being named Levi who is called Biff, then you'll love this book. The angel, Raziel, reminds me entirely too much of Earl. It's great.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Where Teardrops Fall"

Sunday, December 12, 2004

"Sugar-Free Jazz"

Work's been pretty slow all day (and I do mean all day--I've been here pretty much since 9.00 this morning. Ugh). I've got a little bit of studying done so far, but I'm listless and restless. I can't concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two (it's taken me close to ten minutes just to type this little bit, because I keep losing focus). Part of me is really worried about my final tomorrow, and the rest of me is thinking "it'll be a breeze" or, worse, "it doesn't matter, you've already got your Master's Degree."

I brought my boombox from the apartment, so I'm currently subjecting my coworker to Soul Coughing. She seems to be enjoying it thus far, though, which only goes to show that even moms can be cool.


Song of the Moment: Soul Coughing, "Blue Eyed Devil"

"I Put Down My Robe, Picked Up My Diploma"

It was a busy Saturday, lemme tell ya. Woke up around midday to the telephone ringing. Mom was wondering what I'd accomplished so far. The answer, of course, was sleep. She wasn't too thrilled about that, but as I told her, I really wasn't up for doing anything productive without a good night's sleep.

Anyway, I spent the afternoon thoroughly cleaning the apartment, room after room. Got things picked up, the dishes washed, the floors vaccumed, rooms organized and arranged in a presentable manner, etc. Hell, I have access to my dining table again, and I can see the floor of the bedroom. I moved the stack of research/drafts of the Master's Thesis off of my second desk and into an orderly stack in the closet instead. Eventually, I'll get a filing cabinet or something and put all the research and drafts in there so I have them for future reference and stuff.

I got the apartment clean just in time for the folks to show up. I went and picked up Ev, and the four of us headed to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. Dinner was excellent, and I was glad that my parents and Ev seemed to get along. Granted, they seemed slightly bewildered and amused by each other's existence, but that was to be expected, perhaps. I'm just glad there weren't any awkward pauses or anything during the night.

After dinner, my folks cracked open the big Congrats cookie they'd got me (mmm, giant cookie with icing...), and we sat around chatting for a bit before my folks (who are morning people and definitely not night people) decided to head home at 9.30...of course, this wasn't before my father had taken the opportunity to peruse my CD collection and cherry pick a half dozen CDs for his listening pleasure. I'm sure mom will be thrilled with Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 and REM's In Time...and if she isn't, well, more's the pity for her, I guess.


Song of the Moment: The Police, "Canary in a Coalmine"

Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy"

I'm always apprehensive about picking up anything Dylan did in the '80s. The decade wasn't too kind to him (his three evangelist Christian albums at the beginning of the decade are so abyssmal in certain ways that next to no one will listen to them), and the albums he made that were worthwhile still contained a seed of doubt and a bit of distrust. Most of his '80s work was simply too smooth, too glossy, too glitzy. In short, not Dylan. Dylan's music, while well-crafted, has always had a rough-and-tumble quality to it that disappeared for a lot of his '80s work. Combine it with a dearth of decent songs, awkward and preachy (literally) lyrics that simply aped dogma, and a public that was turning to new wave and punk, and Dylan really seemed out of place in the 1980s.

Oh Mercy was something of a comeback for Dylan, and certainly the most interesting solo work he'd done since 1983's Infidels. The production, provided by Daniel Lanois (who would also helm Dylan's late '90s Grammy-winning record Time Out of Mind, a record which owes much to Oh Mercy sonically speaking), creates a rather foreboding, haunting atmosphere, a perfect match to the lyrics and melodies Dylan wrote.

Musically, this album works better than anything Dylan had recorded since the late '70s. Haunting ballads, piano-driven contemplations, and tight rockers fill this record, and the instruments sound like they've been played in an echo chamber. The murky, atmospheric production works in the songs' favor, giving them an otherworldly feel.

Lyrically, Dylan is back in fine form. "Political World" kicks off the album with a litany of the problems with the modern world, while "Everything is Broken" dealves even deeper into the bruised and wounded psyche of contemporary society. "Ring Them Bells" is one of Dylan's most thoughtful contemplations on the nature of the soul, mankind, and the place where the two meet, and its subtle instrumentation and vocal delivery work perfectly. "Most of the Time," "What Good am I?" and "Shooting Star" are some of Dylan's most searching ballads, exploring ideas of loss, regret, purpose, and what might have been (or ought to be). In fact, "Most of the Time" is one of the best songs Dylan has written, whether in the '80s or in his peak days of the '60s or '70s. There's a stately grace and maturity to the song which is offset by the adolescent idea of being okay with the break up "most of the time." The lyrics bely this that assertion--the narrator is trying too hard to convince someone, either the object of his affection or himself, that he's okay with not being with her anymore, and only serves to prove that he is not over her. The song also features one of the best (and few) bridges Dylan ever wrote, and the song scales to new heights to meet it, then gears back down into its meloncholy groove to finish the song off.

Oh Mercy was an album that proved Dylan still had his skills and his wits about him. Musically and lyrically, it recalled Dylan at his best--not because he simply aped the styles and themes which made him famous, but because he tapped into the same creative force which drove those early masterpieces. He recalled his best work by making a record of equal caliber, something which most musicians entering in their third or fourth decade of music would have a difficult time duplicating. Oh Mercy is a minor masterpiece, a latter-day Dylan album that fans of the young visionary Dylan can admire and enjoy.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "What was it you Wanted"

Friday, December 10, 2004

"What Good Am I If I Know And Don't Do"

Got a little thank you card in the mail this afternoon from Sarah Devries nee Rosenberg, thanking me for coming to the wedding back at the end of October. Gave me warm fuzzies all over, and it did remind me how much fun I had on that trip...if only it hadn't been so short.

I went out and ran a few errands this afternoon, and when I returned a few minutes ago, I saw a small neighborhood child standing at my door. A little curious about this, I walked up and asked her if she needed something. Turns out she's selling candy canes in the neighborhood for some fundraiser-type thing. Well, being the sucker I am, I bought a candy cane at her ridiculously-inflated price (I mean, they sell those things for like a buck a box, and she was selling them fifty cents a piece. Understandably, of course--otherwise, she'd never make any money).

So it's been a good afternoon, all things told. Also got a copy of the Master's Thesis over to History Department for my file there, so that's taken care of. There's supposed to be a graduation ceremony with the Graduate College for this semester, but I've no idea when it is or anything. That's something to discover on Monday, though.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "What was it you Wanted?"

"I Don't Really Wanna Stop The Show"

So it's the final day of classes here at OU. Had my last Medieval Italy class this morning (and the exam for it this coming Monday), and now I'm sitting at work, waiting for 1.00 to roll around so I can go home and then go run errands. My activity for tonight (uncle's CD release party) is cancelled due to the CDs not being ready and my aunt's mother being on her deathbed. That sounds flippant, but it wasn't meant to be--my aunt's mother is very, very ill, and they really don't expect her to last much longer. So, if you're of the praying sort, please pray for her--whether to recover or to pass easily, I don't know.

I really have the urge to write, by which I mean something useless like a short story or a novel. Unfortunately, I do not have the time for such writing, since I still have that exam and paper for Medieval Italy coming up. Blah. I guess I'll start working on personal writings over the break or something. Just hope I can hold on to the two or three ideas I have bouncing around in my head until then.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)?"

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"After Today, Consider Me Gone"

The Thesis has been successfully defended. To say that I'm relieved and excited about having it out of the way would be an understatement. I'm just glad I'll finally be able to think about something else for a change.

Tomorrow is, thankfully, payday. On top of that, it looks like my paycheck is significantly larger than I thought it would be (almost twice what I thought it would be, a pleasant surprise indeed).

I have a paper from Beth that I need to proofread tonight or tomorrow morning. Shouldn't be too bad, except that I'll be able to understand about half the words she uses. Funny how that works sometimes, eh? I mean, I'm a fairly intelligent, well-read, well-rounded individual, and there's so much crap out there I know absolutely nothing about. Amazing, really.


Song of the Moment: Sting, "Consider Me Gone"

"It's All Over Bar The Shouting"

I'm off to defend the Thesis now. I'm sure I'll let everyone know how it went when I get back...assuming I'm not in a drunken, depressed stupor...or a drunken, enthusiastic, fantastic stupor. Stupor, one way or the other.


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Birds Without Wings"

"And History Reeks Of The Wrongs We Have Done"

Man, less than 24 hours. Getting down to that ol' zero hour thingie when I defend the Thesis. I'm not nervous yet, but something tells me I ought to be. I dunno.

Hung out with Jess and Dom this evening. We watched Princess Mononoke, a fine piece of animation by good ol' Miyazaki. Damn but that man can make a hell of a movie. Just the way hsi team animates organic motion and the minor details of physical mannerisms and's breathtaking. Sometimes I watch his movies just to watch the motion and the animation, just to see the way characters and objects move.

To be perfectly honest, I wish it were Friday evening already. I'd be paid, I'd be hanging out with my aunt and uncle at the CD release, and all would be groovy. But no, it's only Wednesday night...which is good, in a way. I still need to do some final preparation for the defense, and I really need to work on that Medieval Italy paper. Ugh.

I've been alternately listening to Sting, Jack Johnson, and David Gray all week. It's like each one's had his own day so far (Sting on Monday, Jack Johnson on Tuesday, and David Gray today). Good times, good tunes. Good God, I need help.


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Debauchery"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"She Looks More Like Me Than I Do"

Getting the Master's Thesis ready to defend has been an exercise in seeing how many hoops the university can get me to jump through.

I took it in to the Graduate College again today during my break, having redone the format and added the various pages they needed. To my chagrin, they told me my left margin was wrong (it needs to be 1 1/2 inches, not 1, though the rest are all supposed to be 1". I guess this is for binding purposes, but I'm annoyed by it nonetheless), and that I needed to print it on different paper. Apparently regular paper isn't good enough--no, they want 100% cotton bond, which costs something like $9 for 100 pages. So I ended up spending around $25 (they had cheaper packages of 80 sheets each...since I only needed so much, I figured I'd try to save myself at least a couple of dollars) for paper, because they told me I needed something like 5 or 6 copies of the damn thing! To say that I'm annoyed would be an understatement.

Anyway, all of that has been taken care of. I'm ready to defend it now. I've got all my paperwork done, which is a small blessing and a minor miracle.

To be fully honest, I'm ready to talk about something else at this point in the game. Someone suggested I talk about my romantic life, which I will now proceed to do.



Yeah, that was fulfilling, wasn't it?


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Gutter Full of Rain"

Alternate Title

So I originally wanted to call the Thesis "Flogging the Pony," since the Non-jurors were beating the dead horse of Divine Right monarchy. For some reason, Ev and my mom didn't think that sounded professional enough.

Clif, on the other hand, thought it was a great title. So did I. I'm going to work the phrase into my daily conversations as often as possible, just because I think it's a phrase whose day is here.

Of course, it could just be that I need serious mental help.


Song of the Moment: Jack Johnson, "Bubble Toes"

"Somehow We Always Get Stuck In The Middle"

Unusual, non-thesis-related story: I drove to work yesterday evening due to what I term "torrential downpour," or "lots of rain" to the layman. It was a few minutes before 5.00, and I parked in the parking garage located adjacent to the stadium (where I work). Anyway, it was like two or three minutes till 5.00, so I didn't bother plugging any change into the meter at my parking spot, figuring they weren't going to ticket me for a couple of minutes.

So I got back to the car yesterday evening after work, and guess what was tucked under my windshield wiper? That's right, a parking ticket. They said they came by at 4.55 to give me the ticket...which I find interesting, since it was already 5.00 when I walked down the garage stairs to go to work, and it sure as hell didn't take me five minutes to get from my car to that spot. Someone's clock wasn't set right, and I distinctly remember hearing the clock bells ring out the hour as I walked down the stairs.

So I'm guessing they were just sitting there, waiting for someone to park and not put change in the meter, just so they could swoop in and give them (or, in this case, me) a $15 parking ticket for those two or three minutes. I'm so glad the university is so money-grubbing, y'know?


Song of the Moment: Old '97s, "Blinding Sheets of Rain"

Monday, December 06, 2004

"Admit That The Waters Around You Have Grown"

Busy day. After class this morning, I ran a few errands--paid rent, dropped off a copy of the Thesis with my advisor, and went by the Graduate College to take care of things over there.

The Graduate College is where I ran into problems. Apparently there were a few formatting things I hadn't done that I'm required to do that no one had bothered to tell me about until I got there. So I've had to make yet more changes this evening. But now the changes have been made, the paper has been printed off (again), and it's ready to take over there again tomorrow, just in time to defend (the paper has to be approved by the Graduate College two days before defense...just under the wire!). At least I managed to get all the paperwork taken care of today, so that should all be out of the way.

Got a call from my aunt this afternoon. Apparently the release party for my uncle's new CD is this Friday, and I'm invited. I mean, I knew I was invited a couple of months ago, but now I actually know when the thing is. So I'll be going to that and having a few celebratory drinks to commemorate finishing up my Thesis Defense. Huzzah!


Song of the Moment: Maroon 5, "This Love"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

"Too Many Years At War With Myself"

Just finished printing off the FINAL COPY OF THE MASTER'S THESIS (emphasis added, in case you couldn't tell I'm happy about this). The Defense is scheduled. The paper is finished. All I have to do is go to the Graduate College tomorrow, drop off a copy of the paper, fill out a bit of paperwork, take the new copies to my committee, and then defend it on Thursday. Easy, right?


Anyway, I'm jazzed about this, and obviously slightly delerious, as I just used the term "jazzed."

But yes, the paper is completed. It's a huge relief, and still doesn't even really feel that real. I'm just glad I got all the corrections made quickly, and that my attention held long enough for me to get it done.

Next step: write that pesky 20 page paper for Medieval Italy. Y'know, the one I still really haven't done any research on. Oh, and I need to study for my final. And work on grad school applications. And prepare for the defense. It's gonna be a busy couple of weeks.


Song of the Moment: Sting, "Shadows in the Rain"

"Dave Matthews Band - Before These Crowded Streets"

I always feel the slightest bit wrong for listening to the Dave Matthews Band. They're one of those bands I started listening to when I was a freshman in college and going through that "Oh, I'm a college boy, I should listen to college boy music!" phase that would come to haunt my dreams a couple of years later. DMB is one of my guilty pleasures (though I never really liked Creed. One song, that's it, and only for like a couple of weeks. Then I came to my senses. No one can prove I ever owned one of their CDs, especially since I got rid of the evidence years ago. You can't prove a thing!).

Anyway, Before These Crowded Streets was the first Dave Matthews CD I picked up. Initially it was for the single, "Stay (Wasting Time)," which I later discovered was not actually the best song on the album or at all representative of the sort of songs that appeared on the disc.

What struck me about this album (but not about any of their others--this one is really quite different in a lot of respects than their previous or succeeding efforts) was the epic feel of most of the songs. They were like Pink Floyd, in that they were crafting these long, winding songs full of texture, substance, and bizzare imagery. There are moments of this sort of thing on their other albums--"Lie in Our Graves" from Crash, for instance--but here was an entire album of prog-rockesque tunes with faint worldbeat undertones, prominent saxophone and violin parts, and mostly acoustic guitar (though Tim Reynolds's guest electric guitar work highlights the music perfectly and fits as though he were a regular member of the band...which he might as well have been for the first two or three DMB records).

The music on Crowded Streets finds the band in fine form, weaving various disparate musical styles, instrumentation, and themes into a wonderful tapestry of sound. It's sonically dense, a real wall of sound combining layer upon layer of instrumentation that all blends together into one big sound. This actually works quite well--the band sound like one instrument, in a way.

Lyrically, the record is a little weak. Matthews isn't the greatest lyricist ever, relying more on the groove and the feel of the music and the general sense of words to get him through. DMB is a jam band at heart, and the lyrics sound half-improvised (even if they were developed and written well before the songs were recorded). This gives them a half-finished feel sometimes, though there are moments when it works ("Pig" and "Spoon" are excellent examples of the lyrics really gelling). When it fails, though, you get the almost stream-of-consciouness "The Dreaming Tree," which isn't a particularly bad song. It's not a particularly interesting song, either, and that's kind of the problem: at almost 9.00 minutes, it drags on longer than it has any reason to.

Overall, though, Crowded Streets is an excellent album. Once you realize that Matthews treats vocals as simply another instrument in the weave, the lack of true lyrical depth is less painful. And the songs themselves are, for the most part, interesting and entertaining. "Rapunzel" has a fun stop-and-go rhythm to it; "The Last Stop" mixes in an eastern flavor that works very well; "Crush" has a wonderful bridge element and tune that just sticks in your head; and the aforementioned "Pig" and "Spoon" are fun, well-crafted songs. The latter even features a guest vocal from Alanis Morrisette (who also provides some backing vocals on "Don't Drink the Water") to great effect. The only real missteps are "The Dreaming Tree" and "Halloween," and they're more flubs than out and out terrible songs.

Really, despite their frat rock tradition/label, Dave Matthews Band cranked out an excellent album in Before These Crowded Streets. While I can't stand most of their work, and their live albums bore me to tears (something which would probably drive a "true" fan up the wall--the whole point of DMB is their live show jam experience, or something like that), Crowded Streets manages to capture their energy, adventurousness, skill, and musicianship. Though it may not be the easiest album to dig into--most of the songs are rather long, with only a couple falling below the 6.00 minute mark; and the songs and music itself are all rather dense and inaccessable--the record ultimately offers up quite a lot in terms of worthwhile music.


Song of the Moment: Dave Matthews Band, "Crush"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Tilting With Windmills

We actually have students here in the Writing Center. On a Saturday. On a Saturday for which we opened up specifically for these students (among others). To say that I'm amazed that we had anyone show up would be an understatement.

Had a tough time getting into work this afternoon. They're holding high school football championship games here at the stadium today, so there were only a couple of gates open and I couldn't park under the stadium. When I arrived at one of the open gates, I was hassled for carrying some outside food & drink and a boombox (we needed music today, by Jove). After I explained to them (repeatedly) that I'm an employee here just trying to get to work, they let me in. But it was a bigger pain than it needed to be.


Song of the Moment: Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Windmills"

Friday, December 03, 2004

"All The Billion Other Moments"

Okay, so the Thesis Defense is set up for Thursday, December 9, at 3.00 pm. Apparently it'll run thusly: I'll arrive, meet in a room with the three members of my committee, and they'll ask me questions about the work I've done, how it fits into the broader historical context, and things of that nature. Some of the questions will be somewhat difficult, asking why I included certain stuff and not other stuff; some of the questions will be softballs, lobbed at me underhanded so I can hit them out of the proverbial park. Regardless, it'll take a little over an hour or so, and then I'll be done with that.

Anyway, I have to make the corrections my advisor and one of the other committee members want, so I know what I'll be doing at work tomorrow afternoon.

Ugh, I keep forgetting--I actually have to work from 2-10 tomorrow and Sunday. No break for Chuck. And I still need to go to the Graduate College on Monday, give them the final copy of the paper, and do all the necessary paperwork to actually get the Thesis done and stuff. And I still have that Medieval Italy paper hanging over my head. Eesh.

Sometimes, I think it'd be nice to be the sort of person who doesn't wait until the last minute to get things done. It'd be an interesting experience and a definite change of pace.


Song of the Moment: Mark Knopfler, "Prarie Wedding"

"I Was Almost There At The Top Of The Stairs"

What's this? Chuck's going to bed, and it's before 2.30 am?! Inconceivable!

*Insert gratuitous Princess Bride reference here*


Song of the Moment: Neil Young, "Harvest"

Thursday, December 02, 2004

"Some Kind Of Innocence Is Measured Out In Years"

I'm tired of sitting here at work. I've been here since 4.00 pm, was here for three hours this morning, and I'm just ready to not be in this room.

Really, I'm ready to eat a real meal. Haven't had one all day, actually.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Hey Bulldog"

"Don't Do Jack And Don't Wait Up For Me"

Okay, so I have a meeting with my advisor tomorrow morning at 11.30. I'm writing it down so I don't forget about it (or make a huge mistake and take a nap after class tomorrow).

The completion of the Master's Thesis is becoming more and more of a reality. The idea that I'll maybe be done with this thing by this time next week...well, it excites me, to be honest. I'm looking to make next weekend a celebration of epic proportions.

Yes, celebrating sounds good. Very, very good.


Song of the Moment: Mark Knopfler, "What It Is"

"Sky Captain And The Master's Thesis Of Next Week"

So I went and saw Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow at the cheap theater. It was a tasty little confectionary of film homage. Very much a case of style over substance, but I really think now that it was meant as such. The movie was highly enjoyable and required no mental input from me, so it succeeded in offering me a chance to do something mindless for a couple of hours.

Speaking of mindless (and my reason for needing such a distraction), I got an email from my advisor this evening while I was out. The jist of the email is that he's read my latest draft, said there was great improvement, that the only changes which need to be made are stylistic or grammatical, and that we can make the 12/10 deadline.

To say that I'm extatic would be a gross understatement. To say that this is a huge, Atlas-gage weight off my shoulders would be to underestimate just how heavily this thing has weighed upon me for the past year. To say that I'll have my damn Master's Thesis defended by this time next week would be an accurate and joyful statement.

Anyway, that being said, it's time for some sleep. I've been suffering from nasty insomnia all week because of that damned Thesis. It'll be nice to drift off for once knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is daylight, not an oncoming train.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Matchbox"

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

"Frost On The Graves And The Monuments"

Hard to believe it's already December. The year has gone by entirely too fast for my liking. I mean, I was still hanging out with Beth on a constant basis this time last year. I was also still wearing tinfoil as a hat to prevent the government from reading my mind, but that's a story for another time.

Still haven't heard back from my advisor, which is making me more than a little nervous. If there are corrections I need to make, I want to make them as soon as possible so I can get this thing over and done with. He knows we've only got until the end of next week. He knows I want to be done. He said it's possible. Now he just needs to hurry up.

Admittedly, I of all people have no call to tell him to hurry up. As much as I've dragged my feet on this, I really have no room to talk, y'know? But honestly, it's not like there were that many major changes in the paper. He should've been able to read it in an evening, and getting back to me on it shouldn't have taken this long. To say that I'm worried would probably be a gross understatement.

Additionally, I want to tell my old Ozarks advisor that I'm done, but I don't want to do that until I've heard back from Dr. Hart and can say that I'm ready to defend the Thesis as an unqualified statement. I don't want to tell Dr. Dippel I'm ready to defend and then find out that I'm not.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Desire"

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"I'm Already Learning To Talk Like A Pirate"

Just beat Skies of Arcadia: Legends for the Gamecube. Excellent game, despite the fact that the graphics are a little below average for a game on the current consoles. But when I remember it's a port of a Dreamcast game, the graphics make more sense.

And really, the graphics aren't that bad, really. They're decent three-dimensional characters and backgrounds, special effects are excellent, and the ability of each character to express his or herself is impressive to say the least. Everyone has very vivid and detailed facial expressions, character designs are unique and fun, and the gameplay is fairly straight forward. My only real quibble with the game (aside from the entirely too short a list of playable characters and the lack of really good magic spells) is just how often you run into random encounters. There are times when you have a battle every two or three steps, and this gets very frustrating very quickly, especially when the battles don't take more than a round to complete (one of your characters has this special move that does decent damage to all enemies, and once your level is high enough that your party spirit is adequate to do that special move first turn every time, battles become tedious).

But random encounters aside, it's a great game. The characters are detailed, both in terms of visuals and character depth. Characters actually have developmental arcs, they grow and change. The story is engaging and entertaining, with moments of nailbiting excitement, amusing levity, and tear-jerking sorrow liberally mixed throughout.

One of the neatest aspects of gameplay is ship battling. In most RPG videogames, your group of heroes battles a group of enemies/monsters/bizzare creatures. There's plenty of that, but the developers remembered that the heroes of this story are sky pirates, and thus there are lots of ship battles as well. The ship battles are turn-based, and you have several different cannons and attacks you can use (assuming you've saved up enough spirit points. The spirit system was really kind of a neat way to do special attacks and magic and such, and really made you think before you just started casting random spells). Same applies for character battles, but ship battles were still a nice change of pace.

The battle system itself was rather neat. Each character generated a certain amount of spirit per round (based on their level), and these spirit points could be used to cast spells (each of which cost a magic point and also had a spirit point value, which was how many spirit points you needed to cast the spell), do special moves, etc. If you got your spirit meter filled all the way up, you got a new special command where you could either do the uber move (called "Prophecy." All four characters in your party would get together and call down a moon to smash into your opponents. It dealt a lot of damage and made a few difficult battles much easier) or call in your ship's crew for help (while you didn't get many playable characters, there were lots of non-playable characters running around. You could get several of them to join your ship's crew, and they'd improve stats or give you special bonuses and aid in ship battles or, in this case, regular battles). If you called in your crew, the effects would depend on who you had active. Some crew members would boost your stats, or heal your characters, or do damage to your enemy. Thing is, every single active crew member would come out at once and do their thing. It was a sight to behold, let me tell you.

Anyway, I was really pleased with the game, and rather sad when it ended (though seeing one of the character's little ghost-like pet, Cupil, dressed up in a pirate hat and eye patch at the end had me laughing aloud). I think this game is one I could go back and play again. The characters were interesting enough, there were side quests I never got around to doing, and the game was just fun. Definitely worth the $20 I paid for it.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Love Rescue Me"

"U2 - Rattle And Hum"

Picking up How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb last week has got me listening to my old U2 albums again. I've been spinning The Joshua Tree every night when I go to bed, and I started digging into Rattle and Hum again last night as well.

Rattle and Hum is an interesting and oftentimes frustrating album. It's comprised of both live cuts from The Joshua Tree tour and new studio tracks.

The problem with the album really lies with the live tracks. U2 has always been about bombast, over-emoting, and going for the gusto, but the live tracks on Rattle and Hum are too pompous, too pretentious even for U2. Whether they're including a gospel choir on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" or chugging through a lackluster cover of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" (or, even worse, their cover of "All Along the Watchtower," where Bono adds his own lyrics: "All I've got is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth." Ugh), U2 go too far with the live tunes. In "Silver and Gold," an otherwise excellent tune about the need for sanctions against South Africa, Bono tells Edge to "play the blues," at which point Edge rips into an extremely short guitar solo that is not the least bit bluesy.

Thankfully, the subpar live cuts are balanced out by an excellent selection of new studio cuts. Some of U2's best songs make their appearance on this album--the driving "Desire," the stomping blues duet "When Love Comes to Town" with B.B. King, the somber and subdued "All I Want is You," and the soul-inflected "Angel of Harlem" are all among U2's finest cuts. Several other, lesser-known songs, such as "Van Diemen's Land," "Hawkmoon 269," and the Bob Dylan collaboration "Love Rescue Me" are all worthwhile minor gems in U2's catalog.

Ultimately, Rattle and Hum is a challenging but rewarding record. The live cuts drag the album down, but the studio cuts more than make up for the weak live tracks.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Hawkmoon 269"

"When The Rain Comes You Run Away And Hide"

So it's percipitating outside. I don't know if it's rain or sleet or frozen rain or some bizzare, unholy mixture of some or all of those, but it's turning stuff (like the tops of cars) white and stuff. I really don't look forward to going to work at 8.00 in the morning in this crap. Granted, I don't really look forward to waking up at the crack of dawn and going to work anyway, but you get the idea.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Rain"

"Corn Beef And Onions And True Love"

I'm awfully proud of this comic. The idea behind it made me giggle when I thought it up yesterday, and I'm especially proud of the single tear trickling down Jerome's cheek.

I'm also glad to see the OU Daily has finally decided to start putting current stuff up on the webpage again. Until today, I think the most recent comic available on the website was one done by a Bryan Climer back in August or September.


Song of the Moment: Mark Knopfler, "Old Pigweed"

Monday, November 29, 2004

"I Need Love And Peace"

Since last Tuesday, I've been using the word "finished" to describe the status of my Master's Thesis. Admittedly, this has always been qualified with something akin to, "Well, y'know, mostly finished. I sent the most recent copy to my advisor. I hope it's finished." And then I start weeping softly to myself while I curl up in a fetal ball and rock gently, muttering about how I can't be enrolled here another semester or I'll go mad, mad I say!

But today I received semi-official sanction of my use of the term "finished." I ambushed my advisor outside of his office today and got confirmation that he did indeed receive the paper, will be reading it tonight, is going to converse with the other two members of my committee this afternoon, and that I should--against all logic and hope and rational thought and prior beliefs about my ability to get something done on time--be able to defend the Thesis by next week (the deadline for defense is December 10, next Friday).

To say that this made me happy in ways only the tender love of a comely woman could would hyperbole. It makes me very happy, but in a very different fashion, I think.

Crap. I should really just erase that sentence. But no!--it's already typed, it's already glowing on my screen, and thus I shall allow you, the reader, to read the bizzare and oddly inappropriate comparisons my slightly addled brain has cooked up.

Of course, with the Master's Thesis all but finished, I can worry about the rest of the stuff I need to do over the next two weeks, like the dishes, cleaning the apartment, doing several grad school applications, and researching and writing a 20 page paper that I'm still not even really sure of the topic for. Yeah, it's gonna be an interesting couple of weeks, lemme tell ya.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Yahweh"

"Blinded By The Light"

I should have taken advantage of the great weather we had this weekend and done some jogging. As it is, things are supposed to get cold and nasty starting today/tomorrow/whatever time period we're going in to.

Oh well. I've always preferred, in a strange way, cold weather running. I'm not fond of sweating.

Starting a new storyline over at Dim Bulb today (why am I turning that into a link? It's not like 90% of the people who read this don't already visit the site or didn't happen to come here from the site). The story (or at least the first several strips) are actually semi-autobiographical, and reflect a relationship thing that I was involved in during the fall semester of my senior year at Ozarks (I'm sure Adam recalls the whole debacle, as he was also involved--although only tangentially--in the affair as well). Anyway, it'll stay sorta real life for a little over two weeks, then veer off into total fantasy as I tell Tammy the Succubus's origin story (it's a series I did back when Crooked Halo was something I just emailed to a group of people three or four years ago, but I like the story a lot, I think it's pretty damn funny, and it gives the character some depth and screen time). So yeah, I've got basically the rest of 2004 plotted out. Booyah.

Anyway, bedtime. Hafta wake up early tomorrow and return to the grind. Ugh, the stupid, stupid grind.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Miracle Drug"

Sunday, November 28, 2004

"It's Way Past Midnight"

It's something like 4.30 in the morning. Why am I still awake?

Actually, I think it might have something to do with having slept until 2.00 in the afternoon, but that's just theory.


Song of the Moment: U2, "City of Blinding Lights"

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb"

U2's latest effort, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, is a classicist effort in the best possible way. From the opening muted riffs of the Edge's guitar on the leadoff tune "Vertigo," U2 piles on all the bombast, chunky guitars, thumping bass, and it's-hard-to-believe-it's-a-guy-singing falsetto you'd expect from peak-era U2. The record has a cinematic feel, a sense of its own importance and bredth and size, and it serves the music well. It plays like an aural movie, crafting sonic landscapes with precision and care.

The album really picks up right where their last effort, All That You Can't Leave Behind (which must have included long titles), left off. Chimming guitars, catchy hooks, and delay-drenched lead work are all here in full force, reminding everyone what U2 is supposed to sound like. The songs are all excellent blends of the Achtung Baby-era sound mixed with a healthy dose of Joshua Tree-esque melodies. The effect is really that of U2 doing an excellent imitation of what U2 sounds like. Or that's almost the case--unlike most "back to basics" or "return to the classic sound" efforts by most bands, U2 actually pulls off the trick of stripping away all the layers of bombast and style and glitz that surrounds the band's music, deconstructs the sound, and rebuilds from the ground up. The results are excellent and fit in perfectly alongside U2's best work.

Lyrically, Atomic Bomb falls short of U2's social consciousness work of the '80s. A couple of tunes recall those moods and themes--"Love and Peace or Else," "City of Blinding Lights," and "Yahweh" especially--but most of the songs are more stream of consciousness or introspective, following the trend established by Achtung Baby. The lyrics occasionally slip into the meaningless, as on "Vertigo," "Miracle Drug," and "Original of the Species," but Bono sings with such enthusiasm and emotion that you don't really notice or care (one comedian once joked that Bono could sing anything, even "Bingo," and it would sound amazing. The man emotes, dammit, and he always does a damn fine job of it).

The album does have flaws. The lack of true lyrical depth keeps this record from rivaling the band's peak '80s work, and the music does occasionally make one think the band is striving very hard to sound like U2 instead of just being U2. Ultimately, while this album plays as a sonically cohesive collection, it lacks the sort of depth that would make the record a true classic. They sound big and impressive on the disc, but close examination reveals that most of this is simply the result of U2 going through the motions. There's still some spark and energy left in the band, and Atomic Bomb is a worthwhile effort, but it's nowhere near as groundbreaking or revelatory as it could have been. Of course, maybe expecting U2 to be revelatory at this point in their career is unfair--after all, they've been at it for over two decades. Most bands have broken up well before this point, and the acts that do last this long are usually churning out dreck that no self-respecting music lover would listen to. U2 is still putting out good albums, at least, even if the records are the work of craftsmen rather than visionaries.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Vertigo"

"It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"

Thanksgiving went well. Good food, good times, etc. The run Thursday morning also went surprisingly well. I assumed I'd have a lot of trouble making even 1 mile, but not only did I get in the mile, I had a decent pace throughout (I think I ran about an 8.30 or 9.00 minute mile, which is fast for me). Ended up staying the night in Shawnee at my grandparents' house (there weren't enough beds for my two siblings, parents, and maternal grandparents to all sleep there, so I crashed in the spare bed at my paternal grandparents' place a few blocks away).

One of the interesting things about staying at my grandparents' house was looking at the old photographs that were back in the room I slept in. The room was originally my great-grandfather's back when he was still alive. For awhile after my great-grandmother died, he divided his time between my grandparents' house and my great-aunt and uncle's place (his other daughter) in Owasso. Anyway, he eventually ended up just staying with my grandparents (since they were both retired, while my great-aunt and uncle were not at the time), and that bedroom was his, so in it were lots of old photographs of various family members. Most of these pictures were from before I was born. There were several of my great-grandparents from back when they were close to my age and the years leading up to my lifetime. Most of the pics were, obviously, in black and white (though a couple of the really old ones had been colorized a bit, which I thought was interesting). There were even a few of my great-grandfather in his army uniform (he served during World War II) and a couple from when he and my great-grandmother were first married (turns out she was quite an attractive woman).

The pics interested me both as a member of the family and as a historian. I didn't know half the people in most of the photos, but suddenly I wanted to. I wanted to know their life stories, their hopes and dreams, their identities, their purposes and joys and sorrows. I wanted to know who these people were. Some of them my grandparents could probably identify, and some they might not be able to.

The pictures also sparked a renewed interest in a project I came up with ages ago, back when I first started getting truly interested in history. I want to sit down with each of my grandparents and just talk abou their lives. I want to get a recorded oral history of that generation, while I still can. I think part of the reason I haven't attempted this project yet (aside from lack of time) is fear of the implications. Working on that sort of project is a somewhat morbid idea, and it seems to remind me all too much of the fact that my grandparents are getting on in years. They're all in their seventies now. I hate the idea that they won't be around forever. Reminders of mortality are never kind.

But that's also one of the major reasons for doing the project. Both of my grandfathers are wonderful storytellers (it's where I picked up the urge to tell stories to anyone and everyone who will listen), and I know that both of them and both of my grandmothers have very interesting and worthwhile stories to tell. They grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, all lived very different lives, and could do so much for my understanding of what it's like to be a member of their generation. I want some of their stories to be available--even if only to me--for years to come.

Anyway, I may start working on the project over Christmas Break. It'd be something interesting--I could sit down with a tape recorder and some questions, and just let my grandparents ramble on (in a somewhat directed manner) about their lives. It'd be interesting to get a mental picture of life in Oklahoma over the past near-century.


Song of the Moment: U2, "Vertigo"

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

"Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company"

Duet albums are notoriously mediocre affairs. Guest stars are called in to sing subpar songs or old standards, performances are flat and lifeless, and you get the feeling the record label is sitting back raking in cash because folks will buy a duet album for a single song that happens to feature their favorite singer mirthlessly crooning a couple of verses.

Posthumous albums are similarly mediocre and rather macabre. They tend to be incomplete, slapdash, and an effort to cash in on a dead man's name and people's sudden hunger for anything with said name attached to it.

A posthumous collection of duets, then, would be something akin to that William Hung CD in terms of taste, refinement, and general necessity.

Or so it would seem. This is not the case with Ray Charles's Genius Loves Company, a set of twelve songs recorded over about a year with various musicians. The aforementioned problems with duet albums and posthumous albums do not apply to this record. It's warm, entertaining, well-performed music by some of the best acts of yesterday and today.

The song and style selections for this set are excellent. Charles has always been an eclectic conosuier of musical genres, crafting amazing tunes in everything from country to rock to R&B to soul to gospel, and everything in between. With his cohorts (and occasionally a full orchestra), Charles manages to work some impressive music out of genres and styles you'd think are pretty tired by now. But that was always his genius--finding new and exciting ways to play with musical styles.

The real joy in this album, though, is hearing Charles and the guest stars interact. You can tell everyone is having a good time, that they love what they're doing, and that they're enjoying the music and each other's company. And the guest list is pretty top-notch--appearances by Norah Jones, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, B.B. King, and Elton John (among others) make this an impressive cast list. Their performances are committed and well-done, and the songs chosen are excellent fits both for Charles and the guests.

The best tunes of the bunch are the songs with Norah Jones ("Here We Go Again," which also features the indomitable Billy Preston on B3 Hammond Organ), James Taylor ("Sweet Potato Pie"), Elton John ("Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word"), and Van Morrison (a live version of "Crazy Love"). Everything on the album is worthwhile, but these are the songs that stand out after the record is done playing.

Ultimately, Genius Loves Company may not be a complete masterpiece, and it may not be as awe-inspiring or as excitingly creative as his peak work, but the record sits nicely next to his body of work, a fitting final tribute to a man who loved what he did.


Song of the Moment: Ray Charles and Van Morrison, "Crazy Love"