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 be...um...mild 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"

"Don't Know Much About History"

It's done. After months of struggle, it's finally done.

Well, I hope it's done. I don't have enough time to do another major overhaul before the Defense deadline (December 10).

I've sunk alot of time and effort into this paper. I've spent many sleepless nights working on it, contemplating it, dissecting it in my head, working on it while I toss and turn and ball up the sheets into a tangled mass of linen. I'm struggled with this paper, and in the process, I've discovered I was struggling with myself.

I've confronted my inability to complete things. I've faced my tendency to put things off until panic mode sets in. I've admitted my weaknesses and fears, I've stood up for my strengths and abilities, and I've come out the other side of this whole long mess with a deeper understanding of myself.

Perhaps that's trite. Perhaps I'm assigning too much to this 30 page paper. I mean, I've written an average of 60-70 pages per semester since I got to OU. This paper shouldn't have been difficult, shouldn't have been that different from the other papers I've written here.

Except that...it was different. Is different, whatever. The Thesis has been a very different beast, something I've wrestled with since I first came up with a topic. Until tonight, I wasn't even sure what I was trying to say with it. But I think this paper represents my stay here at OU. It's been tentative, working in fits and starts, sometimes muddled and unclear, drug out longer than it needed to be. The paper has been my albatross.

I never wanted to come to OU. I wanted to go far away, I wanted to leave this area of the country and experience something new. But I was shackled here, and I resented it. I resented the school, and the History Department, and the fact that other schools didn't recognize my obvious talent (whether that talent is real or not is a subjective issue, really). I was mad at being forced to come here, really.

And then I met a few people who made my time here seem at passable at worst and downright entertaining at best. And somewhere along the line, 'round about the time I started getting rejecetion letters from grad schools for the PhD, OU seemed suddenly safe, and familiar, and easy to remain at. So work on the paper got slower and slower, my initiative and drive and motivation dried up like a puddle in August, and here I am, months after I thought I'd be finished (actually, almost a year after the initial date I set for my completion of this degree), just now getting to the home stretch. There's still too much to be done in the next few weeks, even assuming I can get the Thesis defended this semester. But suddenly I have hope that it can be done. I have motivation again. I have a desire to move on. I'm ready to go, I'm ready to experience something new and different and exciting. I'm ready.


Song of the Moment: Traveling Wilburys, "End of the Line"

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"The Raindrops"

Nasty weather this morning. It takes me about five minutes to bike from my apartment to work. I was drenched by the time I got to the stadium. My jacket probably won't be dry until tomorrow (if I'm lucky).

In the home stretch on the Thesis. Going to finish it before I leave work this morning so I can take the thrice-cursed thing to the history department, leave it with the various professors, and wash my hands of the whole thing. I'm ready to think about something else for awhile, y'know?


Song of the Moment: Radiohead, "Sit Down. Stand Up"

Monday, November 22, 2004

"Maybe Guilty Of Hesitating"

Blah. Work's been busy tonight, which annoys me. On the positive side, I'm making decent progress on Thesis stuff (which is good, since I blew off the entire afternoon relaxing. Brain was mush. Some days are just like that, y'know?).

Found out I'll actually be working tomorrow night. Originally, with Thanksgiving and all, we were scheduled to only stay open until 5.00. Well, someone decided we needed to be open until 10.00, so I guess we will be. We do at least get to leave Wednesday at 5.00, which is nice.

There's also the possibility of hefty weekend scheduling in the next couple of weeks. The rumor was that we were going to be open on Saturdays for a couple of weeks--from 8.00 am until 2.00 am. That's right--2.00 am. Even I'm usually in bed by then...or, well, at least heading to bed. Really. Honest.


Song of the Moment: Eagles, "Wasted Time"

"Folk Singer's Blues"

So it appears yet another of the American Idol folks has put out an "album." I swear, every time one of those things crops up, it's like a little piece of me dies. I mean, I know I've never been the best singer around--there are any number of people who would argue at extensive lengths that my voice lacks a lot of things (pitch, tone, the ability to carry a tune, listenability). But in the music my brother and I make, my purpose is always clear--I write the words and make a concerted effort to sing them as well as I can. And it works. Several people have told me that my voice fits the music (whether that speaks well of my voice or ill of Clif's guitar playing--and whether or not those people were lying to me--remains to be seen). And really, I'm just using the vocals to get the words across. It's all about the words and the ideas of the songs.

But ah, American Idol...yes, an entire show where the style is more important than the substance, where flash and histronics trump real talent and a depth of ability or craft. Let's have someone else write all the songs, play all the instruments, coach us on how to sing, and use Pro Tools to cover every blemish, cracked note, and false bit until there's no life left in what was maybe a mediocre song to begin with. Yes, American Idol is everything that is wrong with popular music today. The American Idol winners do not create new music; no, they simply ape and mimic musical styles. Each person has been billed as within a specific genre or style, a certain type of singer. The emphasis is always on the smooth production and studio trickery.

Meh. I'm kvetching. It just annoys me to see talentless hacks getting record contracts. I'm not saying Clif and I should have the contract in their places, simply that it's a travesty that someone could go on a freakin' gameshow (which is essentially what American Idol is) and win a recording contract for having a pretty face and being able to pretend to have talent. Not a single one of 'em is capable of writing an actual song themselves, and wouldn't know how to perform said songs if they didn't have a dozen people telling them how. At least Clif and I, amateurs though we are, do it all ourselves and have some sort of talent.

Feh. Bedtime, I think. That's enough venting.


Song of the Moment: Cross-Eyed Yeti, "Substance Abuse"

Sunday, November 21, 2004

"Ticking Away The Moments That Make Up A Dull Day"

So I fully intended to use all of today to research and work on the Master's Thesis.

Then a series of students decided that that wouldn't be any fun, and brought in papers for me to look at instead. Stupid work--always getting in the way of me doing what needs to be done.

What I don't understand is this--for most of the semester, I've done jack squat. I've sat here most Sunday afternoons playing Gameboy or re-reading a Terry Pratchett novel for the umpteenth time. No one comes in. Not a single soul.

But today, the day when I need time to myself to get my stuff done, to do important work, they crawl out of the friggin' woodwork, clamoring for help and aid. It's uncanny and bizzare and other interesting and highly descriptive words.

Anyway, I'm off to try and get at least a few of these articles perused before I have to work again. Who knows--maybe I can at least get all the last research stuff out of the way today and do all the writing tomorrow.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "State of Love and Trust"

"I've Got A Lot Of Respect For A Gun"

So I was driving past campus yesterday afternoon, and while stopped at a stopsign, I noticed a kid walking along next to the road. He had on a suit, a backpack slung over his shoulder, and he was wearing a trucker hat.

You're all familiar with trucker hats, right? The hat part is made of some foam-like substance for the front half and a rather stiff mesh for the back half. They're supposed to breathe really well or whatever. They usually have a John Deere logo splashed across the front. The baseball caps we wore when I played little league back in the mid-'80s were of this variety. In short, they're stupid looking (much like most everything people wore in the '80s. I mean, tube socks? Neon? Sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off? Brightly-colored wrist- and headbands? Dear God, what were we thinking?). Yeah, a guy in a suit and a trucker hat.

Now, I know I'm not the most fashion-hip guy out there. I know my own fashion sense ground to a halt sometime around grunge. I wear jeans and t-shirts when I can get away with it. Most of those t-shirts are from concerts (two Bob Dylan, two Beatles, an Eric Clapton, a Sting, Paul McCartney, and then a handful of shirts that I've accumulated over the years, like my Shawnee soccer t-shirts). I like flannel shirts. I've been wearing the same jacket (much to my mother's chagrin) since I was a freshman in high school. When it gets cold, all I do is add my hooded sweatshirt under the jacket. I have no sense of fashion, really. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would take one look at me and say, "Do we look like miracle workers? C'mon, you have to at least give us some raw material to work with." Actually, they'd probably just scream in terror and curl up into a little ball, but if they were capable of speech after that, that's what they'd say.

But that being said, there are some clothing matches I will not stoop to, especially since I don't even care for trucker hats (and don't usually wear a hat anyway). Even with my limited understanding of fashion, I can tell this guy looks like an idiot. He probably thinks he looks cool or something. I think he needs to be kicked in the teeth.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Diamond Joe"

Saturday, November 20, 2004

"My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors"

So I spent a good part of the afternoon in the library, digging through history journals and looking for my last few sources. The results were rewarding--I think I've got all the journal articles I need to finish up the Thesis. I'm going to spend all day tomorrow working on this thing, and hopefully get the last draft done and sent off to my advisor. If that is the case, expect some sort of celebratory post here to commemorate me getting off my ass and getting something accomplished for once.

I do feel revitalized over the last couple of days, though. I'm not sure what to attribute it to--panic at the realization that the semester is almost over, a sudden sense of what I need and want, or something else. I actually think it has something to do with running--I've been running again the past couple of days. I hurt like hell, and I don't go very far or very fast, but there's a certain...rejuvenation in the act. There's a sense of renewed purpose. And that sense means that I'm ready to get done what needs to be done, finally. I mean, it's only taken me two semesters longer to finish this damn Master's degree than I originally said it would.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Wishlist"

Friday, November 19, 2004

"Pearl Jam - Rearviewmirror: Best of 1991-2003"

Pearl Jam holds a strange place in my musical collection--a band I started listening to in my formative early teen years (ah, the angst of junior high school), abandoned in my later teenage years, and picked up again as a young adult. Pearl Jam is also one of the first bands I started listening to because a friend recommended them--Chris Sehorn, a guy I went to elementary and junior high with. His parents were fairly "cool" as far as my preteen brain could understand the idea--they let up stay up late, play videogames until ridiculous hours, eat and drink whatever they wanted, and call them by their first names. They also had what I thought was an awesome record collection. I mean, they were in their thirties, and they listened to Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd. It was bizzare. I mean, sure, my own father listened to Pink Floyd, but he was an old fart compared to these people.

So yeah, I got into Pearl Jam because a friend liked them, and I held on through the band's third album, Vitalogy, which came out in 1994. I was only 14 at the time, and my musical tastes (while growing) were still pretty basic. That was the year I entered high school, rejected all things newer than about 1975, and retreated to my Beatles records. I was eventually drug back into the present by various friends (most notably Wendy in high school and James in college, though telling James that he's had any influence on me is something I couldn't bear to let him know because he'd never let me hear the end of it), and even started listening to Pearl Jam again. I gave their Riot Act a try, and found it wasn't too bad. Then a couple months ago, I picked up Lost Dogs, and it reminded me why I'd liked this band in the first place.

Well, Rearviewmirror cements the deal. Two discs of career-spanning goodness. Like Lost Dogs, Rearviewmirror is divided up between "rockers" and "ballads," though this is Pearl Jam, so the ballads aren't always mellow "oh, woe is me, my love has left me" drivel. Each disc is arranged chronologically (except for "Yellow Ledbetter," oddly enough, which appears at the end of the ballads disc. Which I find strange, since it was slotted at the end of the rockers disc on Lost Dogs. But that's a minor detail), and each disc kicks serious amounts of ass.

Now, given that I tuned these guys out after their third album, I missed out on about three albums' worth of material, so I only knew about half the songs on this set. That was okay, though, because the songs I didn't know were still uniformly excellent. The nice thing about Pearl Jam is that, even though the band constantly attempts to expand its sonic pallet, musical style, and artistic vision, there is still a consistency to their body of work that holds up well.

The set skews more towards the band's early work, and over half the songs on here are from the Vitalogy era or earlier. But since that's when the band was at its peak, this weighting doesn't seem amiss. The song selection is hard to argue with. All the big tunes are here, from "Jeremy" to "Even Flow" to "Last Kiss," "Wishlist," "I am Mine," and "Hail Hail" and everything in between. "Last Kiss" and "Yellow Ledbetter" are repeated here from Lost Dogs, but they're such good tunes (and had such a limited release when they first came out) that you don't really mind. Besides, they fit well alongside the rest of the material.

One interesting thing to note is that several of the songs from Pearl Jam's debut, Ten, have been remixed for this album. I'm usually against remixing and redoing songs for Hits collections, as the remixes are not the original songs (y'know, the songs that actually were the hits). But in this case, the remixing works to the songs' benefit, restoring some of the rough edges to the music and stripping away some of the glossy sheen that the music had in the original mixes.

My one complaint with the album, really, is the packaging. First, it's in one of those paper slipcases. I really don't care for those; I prefer the plastic jewel cases. They're sturdier, hold up better, and don't seem as cheap or slapdash. The other problem is the complete lack of liner notes. Lost Dogs had excellent notes on each song, comments from various members of the band about the recording of the tunes, the meaning behind them, etc. No such thing for Rearviewmirror, though. Admittedly, this doesn't detract from the excellent music here, but the collector/music enthusiast in me is a bit annoyed by the lack of delux packaging.

All in all, Rearviewmirror is an exceptional summation of the band's work to date, a solid reminder of why Pearl Jam was one of the frontrunners in the grunge revolution of the early '90s. Though their heydays are long passed, the band still cranks out excellent music that is worth listening to, and this collection gives you a wonderful sampler of the best each of their records has to offer.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Nothingman"

Thursday, November 18, 2004

"I've Just Seen A Face"

So today was a busy, exhausting, and ultimately rather rewarding day. Work this morning (and work again right now...at least I'm getting paid), a run earlier this afternoon (for the first time in...um...too long), and other things, which shall be recounted herein.

First and foremost, got a visit at work from the Hot Spanish Golfer Chick this morning. She needed help with a paper in the ol' Chicago Manual Style (i.e., footnotes), and since apparently I'm the only one with even a passing acquaintance with that method, I get all of the Chicago Style papers. Granted, it didn't bother me in this instance, 'cause HSGC is real easy on the eyes and ears, man.

Anyway, after I got home from work and had a bite to eat, I chatted with Adam for a minute. He's decided to make Troubled Times full color for Chapter 3. He asked me if I was okay with this, to which I replied, "Um, why wouldn't I be?" I mean, I don't care if he does it in color or grayscale. Whatever he's comfortable with doing, whatever he thinks he has time to do. Besides, it's not like he ever asks my opinion on other stuff, such as cutting chunks of the script without warning (though really it worked to the comic's benefit, since I was a little dialogue-heavy in the first two chapters. Damn exposition).

After chatting with Adam, I happened to get online and notice an old friend from Ozarks, Karra, was on. I haven't had the chance to talk with her much since I left Ozarks, and this fact saddens me greatly. Anyway, she and I had a good conversation, got caught up a bit, and generally had a good afternoon. Hopefully it won't be months and months before we get to speak again.

Then I decided to go for a jog. I mean, I've got that thrice-damned Thanksgiving Day Race coming up a week from today, I haven't run in about a month (at least), and it finally quit raining long enough for me to go run. So I did. Got in about a mile, which is better than I expected to do (and considering that the race I'll be running is a one miler, that's a good thing). It felt good to run again, even if it hurt like hell and I'm still sore all over. It's a good kind of sore.

It's funny, but running sorta re-energized me, in a way. I feel like a very different person than the one who woke up this morning. Maybe this is a sign of things to come. Maybe with getting my exercise back on track, I can get everything else up and running (no pun intended) again. Here's hoping.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Baby's in Black"

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"Life, In A Nutshell"

Ever get the feeling the life you're living is scripted from beginning to end, as though all of your actions are predetermined and preordained? That, no matter how hard you try, you are stuck in a rut, in a series of moments you cannot escape? Ever feel like your routine has become something far deeper, something far more sinister and mundane, that the needle has hit a skip on the record and it's going to take a major thump to get the needle to jump the groove and continue playing the song all the way through?

I want to live life unscripted. I don't want to know that tomorrow is going to follow much the same way yesterday did or today is. I don't want this rut. I want to break out of the mold I've placed myself in, kick the dust from these tired bones, and get on with things. I want to take charge of my life again.

My complaints in this area are becoming repetative. I think this is a sign that I've finally gotten tired enough of being where I am in things that I'll kick myself in the ass and get started on what's important again. I only hope I haven't waited too late to get back into it.


Song of the Moment: Peter Gabriel, "Mercy Street"

"A Lover For Your Life And Nothing More"

I'm still on the Bob Dylan kick I began by purchasing Before the Flood and Street Legal. What's happened is that I've gone back and started listening to the Bootleg Series live shows, comparing them to Before the Flood, listening to how the audience reacts to Dylan and his music. And I have to say, what I'm hearing is interesting, to say the least.

First show--Live 1964. Dylan has just released Another Side of Bob Dylan, which received mixed reviews from his folky constituency, who feel just a bit betrayed by the lack of overt political messages and the emphasis on introspective lyrics. But Dylan is still their golden boy, and even when he's playing bizzare tunes like "Gates of Eden" and "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" from the as-yet unreleased Bringing It All Back Home at the show, folks are still supportive of and enamoured with Dylan. He's still their hero, their leader, their spokesman; but maybe he doesn't want to be those things.

Fast forward to 1966. Dylan's gone electric, releasing Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde to a flurry of protest, confussion, and general chaos. The division of the show mirrors the schizophrenic nature of Dylan and his audience at this point--the first half of the show, the all-acoustic section, receives much warmer (if still lukewarm) acceptance than the electric half (when the infamous audience member cries out "Judas!" right before Dylan and The Band break into a vicious version of "Like a Rolling Stone"). Even by the 1966 show, Dylan already shows a tendency to rework and reinterpret his work in new and jarring ways. The acoustic version of "Visions of Johanna" is dirge-like instead of the sultry late-night blues of the album version. The electric songs on the second disc--including reworkings of several older Dylan songs that were originally solo acoustic numbers--shocks the audience. Dylan actually prefaces "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met) " with a brief bit of the way the song originally went, saying, "That's how it the song used to go," and then breaking into a stomping, riotous electric version.

Most of Dylan's fans were angry about those reinterpretations in 1966. I'm sure some Dylan fans never forgave him for turning to rock and roll. Some, though, came to see him as the new Messiah in rock, a new prophet who would show them all the way...until his motorcycle accident not long after the tour for Blonde On Blonde. Dylan's next several albums were quiet, mellow affairs, including John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and New Morning. Dylan seemed to have lost the angry spark that drove his early work, and he wasn't touring to support these albums. He was even more introspective than he'd been on Another Side. Sales started to slip.

Then 1974 rolled around. Dylan reunited with the Band for the album Planet Waves, and they decided to go out on tour in support of the record. It's quite accurate to say that part of the reason behind the tour was nostalgia and the need to get both acts back into the good graces of their audiences. Listening to Before the Flood, though, tends to make one think Dylan perhaps resented that necessity, and that lent the galloping energy that drove his radical reinterpretations.

But this time, things were different than in 1966. Folks were right up along with Dylan, loved him for who and what he was, and accepted the reinterpretations willingly, if with more than a few scratched heads. Sure, the songs didn't sound like they used to, Dylan was changing things and reworking familiar pieces, but they had that energy, that spark that much of his work since Blonde on Blonde seemed to have lacked. Dylan even picked up his acoustic guitar for a brief acoustic set in the middle of each show. No one shouted "Judas."

Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76 seemed to follow the trend set by the 1974 tour, though there was a bit more liveliness, warmth, and humor to the Rolling Thunder. Dylan continued to radically rework songs--take the opener to Live 1975 for instance, a raucous and storming version of the mellow country tune "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You." Dylan also revealed new tunes again, relying heavily on material from the just-released Blood on the Tracks and the as-yet unreleased Desire. Folks were amazed by the energy of these new tunes, by the spirit and creativity and originality in them.

Dylan has spent much of his career defying his audience's expectations. Ever since Another Side, Dylan has done virtually everything he can to shed the role of cultural spokesman, to simply make the music he wants to make. Almost every album since that one could be seen as an effort to shed or punish his audience, to force them to leave their preconceptions about Dylan and about his music at the door. Sometimes this has made his audience angry, sometimes it has confused them, but it's always made for an interesting ride. Folks eventually catch on to Dylan's tricks, see what he's doing, see his point, and simply enjoy his music for what it is.

Even today, Dylan defies easy labelling. As the school paper noted back in September, when Dylan came to perform in Oklahoma City, you never know what Dylan you're going to get on a given night. It could be the classicist Dylan, who plays all the old songs you know. Or you might get the experimental Dylan, who plays songs you may not be familiar with. The paper went on to note that they hoped Dylan would be classicist in OKC (which he wasn't--Dylan stayed behind the piano all night, performing mostly songs from his most recent albums), and thus completely missed the point--Dylan will do what he wants. We're just along for the ride.

Looking at his most recent studio album, Love and Theft, you can see how Dylan still defies expectations. That record is a bizzare mix of rock, rockabilly, country, Appalacia balladry, bluegrass, blues, ballads, and anything else Dylan felt like tossing into the mix. It's an album that culminates everything Dylan has been over the past forty years, sounding both old-fashioned and completely new all at once. It's unlike any other Dylan album, unlike any other album by any other artist out there, and yet it fits perfectly into his canon. It fits Dylan. And the music is great--it's loose, it's warm, it's funny and sad and true, and it's comfortable. Dylan isn't the spokesman of the counter-culture anymore, he's not the protest folkies' darling anymore, but he's still a master storyteller and lyricist. His music is still great fun to listen to. And isn't that the whole point, really?


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "It Ain't Me, Babe (Live)"

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Get Back To Where You Once Belonged"

So Capitol is reissuing the first four American Bealtes LPs on CD. I don't really know what to think of this, and I think the same is true for a lot of Beatles fans.

See, the first four American albums were cobbled together from the British albums in bizzare ways. The first American album was called Meet The Beatles, and it collected tunes from the first and second UK albums (Please Please Me and With the Beatles). Such things were common practice in the early 1960s--British acts would release an album in Britain, and the US distributors would resequence the records, remove or add tracks, and all sorts of things as market strategies. It means the albums play very differently in the US versions than the UK versions. There's also the question of sound quality--the US versions of the early Beatles records were stereo, but drenched in heavy echo apparently, so they sound completely different than the mono UK albums (which are what were released on CD back in 1987).

So they've got these albums coming out. Essentially the same songs that are available on the British records, only with different sequencing and album titles. A couple of the records have singles thrown into the mix to fill out the disc. But if you've got Beatles 1 or the two excellent Past Masters discs, that's immaterial. So, is there a reason to bother releasing these things on CD? I don't know, and that's why I'm torn. I need to talk with dad about this, see what he thinks. I mean, these are the albums that I technically grew up listening to. I can remember sitting in the living room floor with my father, listening to Beatles records while he told me what it was like when these guys first came out. I can understand the nostalgia folks have for the old American versions of the albums. I mean, part of me was always a little confused that the CDs dad had didn't follow the same sequencing or song list that the old vinyl records I'd heard did.

Anyway, it's pretty immaterial right now, since I don't have the money to buy these things, and really shouldn't be making any major purchases this close to Christmas anyway. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "I Feel Fine"

"Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"

Today was laundry day, mostly because I pulled on my last pair of clean pants and last clean shirt this morning after getting back from class (it rained on me on the way back from class, while I was on the bike, so I was a bit nasty). Of course, since today was laundry day, it decided to rain all the hours God sent us. It hasn't let up all day, and it's annoying me to no end.

Ah well, the laundry's done now...well, half of it. Still have lights and underwear, but I'm not made of money, y'know.

I really don't mind the rain, usually. I like watching it fall, I like listening to the low rumble of thunder, I love seeing the brilliant flash of lightning light up my room at night. I don't like having to run around doing stuff in the rain, though. I especially don't like it when my primary mode of transportation (the bike) isn't something I want to take out into the rain, my secondary mode of transportation (my feet) still won't keep my dry, and the tertiary mode of transportation (the car) isn't really viable because I don't have a parking permit ('cause I didn't feel like paying $175 for the opportunity to fight for a parking spot).

And it's supposed to be like this all week. I wonder if I can just call in sick to life until Thanksgiving.


Song of the Moment: The Who, "Love Reign Over Me"

"Who Watches The Watchmen?"

So, I finished reading Watchmen last night.

Um...damn. Just...damn. I can see why it had such a huge impact on the field of superhero comics.

The twist...so twisted...the way the day is "saved"...it's all just...

I seriously hope I haven't ruined my appreciation of other, lesser comics by reading this thing.


Song of the Moment: Eagles, "Hotel California"

"Don't Let It Slide"

So I just got off the phone with Clif, who called not long after I left work. What we lack in consistancy of communication we more than make up for in having really long-ass conversations when we do get around to it.

It sounds like things are finally looking up for him, and he's getting himself back in order and back under control. I know this semester's been rough on him, but there's light at the end of the tunnel and a break coming up in a couple of weeks, which I know he's looking forward to.

He reminded me, though, that there is so little time left in this semester, and that I've been dragging my feet on entirely too many things. I know I have to get the Master's Thesis done. I know I have to research for and write my Medieval Italy paper. I know I need to apply for grad schools. I know all these things, and can't bring myself to do them. I have no enthusiasm for my work anymore, no desire to finish it other than the urge to not ever have to look at it again. And that's no way to motivate one's self to get anything done. I need to finish my papers and applications because these are the things I want to do, not because I'm tired of having them hang over my head. God willing, this week I can get such motivation going and get rid of these nagging doubts that plague me.

Maybe that's why I'm having trouble sleeping--while I'm not focusing on the Thesis every night before I go to sleep, it is hanging over me, haunting me like a spectre. I'm tired of that. I'm just tired in general. Even drawing hasn't been totally enjoyable lately. I feel like I need a break from everything, a moment to let my mind off the hook and not worry about crap for awhile. Dunno if I'll get it or not, though. I just honestly don't know about anything anymore.


Song of the Moment: Radiohead, "Subterranean Homesick Alien"

Sunday, November 14, 2004

"Bob Dylan - Street Legal"

To say that I was apprehensive when I picked up Street Legal is to be very, very honest. Now, anyone who knows me knows I listen to way more Dylan than is really healthy anyway, but even Dylan fans know there are some Dylan albums that just aren't really worth bothering with (anything between Street Legal and Infidels, actually, and even those two albums are acquired tastes rather than heralded classics).

To say, then, that I was pleasantly surprised with be very true. I didn't expect it to be as good as it was, though I do qualify that statement by saying the album does have flaws, and it's not for just anyone.

In a lot of ways, Street Legal reminds me of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. Both attempt to explore and examine the various forms of American music, and both feature prominent horns and keyboard arrangements. But where the sprawling Exile takes each genre or style separately, Street Legal blends the various disparate threads of American music and synthesizes a new style. In a way, Dylan's album is something of a stylistic exercise, an effort to explore a new sound. In that regard, it is an excellent album. The musicianship is top notch and tight, with just enough rough edges left in the mix to keep the music from sounding sterile. Tunes like "Changing of the Guards" and "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" have an excellent feel and sound to them, and "New Pony" has a sleazy grind to it that you can't help but groove to.

Vocally, Dylan offers a uniformly excellent performance, sounding genuine and natural in his efforts. His voice not only sounds natural, it sounds downright decent, an impressive feat for the raspy singer. The addition of female backup singers strengthens Dylan's vocals in places, filling in the gaps left by his ragged voice, but sometimes the backup singers become a little annoying, as in "New Pony."

The place where the album falls short is in the lyrics. Even as much as I like tunes like "Changing of the Guards," there's a spark lacking from the lyrics that's quite noticeable. The rhymes seem forced and weak, and the stream-of-consciousness turns of phrase seem unnatural and artificial. It's as though Dylan were doing an imitation of Dylan, and while it's a good imitation, it's nothing like the real master. Dylan was struggling to come up with compelling lyrical material, and that shows. His words here are nowhere near his peak mid-'60s work, or even approaching his excellent albums from only a few years prior (Blood on the Tracks and Desire, the latter coming out only two years earlier than Street Legal).

Even with the lyrical shortcomings, Street Legal is still an entertaining and worthwhile album. It is neither as revelatory as his early work nor as compelling, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, it's a solid effort. Street Legal did not have the sterility that much of Dylan's '80s work would, nor did it have the energy and vigor of his early albums. Street Legal falls somewhere between the two extremes, and is notable for being not quite so notable.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)"

"Bob Dylan & The Band - Before The Flood"

Before the Flood is a collection of cuts from a 1974 tour that Bob Dylan and the Band--both coming off mediocre albums--put on to recapture their audience's attention. And damn did it ever work.

The Dylan cuts here seem as if they were performed by a man and a band possessed. He tears through familiar tunes in new arrangements and new settings, completely altering familiar songs until they were barely recognizable. And the songs that were recognizable were still so different and alien, the audience barely knew how to react.

That being said, the reinterpretations are phenomenal. Dylan has always made an effort to defy his audience's expectations, and by the mid-'70s, they'd finally come to appreciate this fact and to embrace it. The roar of the crowd on the double album makes it clear that Dylan's fans still love him and his music, however he may twist it and change it.

The Band's tunes, which mostly appear in the middle of the set, are a brief respite from the storm. There are no surprises here--The Band play things pretty straight, giving close reads of some of their best-known tunes, including "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down," and "Stage Fright" on disc one, and "The Weight" on disc two. This straight-forward work by The Band on their original tunes actually works to the album's advantage, though, as it provides a baseline against which to compare and interpret Dylan's radical reworkings.

Dylan's song selection stuck mostly to older, more established tunes from his first six or seven albums. Tunes such as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Lay Lady Lay," "Blowing in the Wind" (the album's closer, in a very different version from the original solo acoustic), and numerous others seemed obvious and well-loved choices, but some of the tunes Dylan played were outside of expectations. Including "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Highway 61 Revisited" from Highway 61 Revisited, and "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (played by Dylan solo acoustic at a breakneck speed) kept things even more varied and unpredictable.

Before the Flood captures Dylan and The Band at a performance ability peak, and presents them as a force of nature that tore through songs, the audience, and expectations. The results are phenomenal and worth listening to, and the album rivals any of the recent excellent Bootleg Series live shows. The record is a must-have for anyone who values the work of Dylan or The Band.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan & The Band, "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) (Live)"

"Pour Me Another Shot Of Whiskey"

T'was a busy weekend, to say the least. Friday we bid goodbye and good luck to Amy, wishing her the best in her new job. Then I partook of some gaming entertainment with Ev, after which I drove out to the middle of nowhere to hear my uncle play with some new band (he still plays with the other band, the Regular Joes, but he's doing this too just for kicks). Anyway, the band was pretty damn good, with two people handling the lead vocal duties (a guy and a girl, the former having a pretty basic coutry/rock voice and the latter having a hell of a set of pipes on her). I went and heard them play again on Saturday, too, and was not disappointed. The place where they played was a little too country-fried for my tastes, and I felt a little too city boy and out of place with all the mullets, cowboy hats, and shitkicker boots. But the band still kicked ass, and had a pretty wide range of cover material (excellent mix of rock and country--and I can't believe I just said that--which worked really well with the band, especially considering both my uncle and the drummer are really new to the group and the band members never get together to practice).

Anyway, I also made a few payday purchases this weekend--two Bob Dylan CDs (the live Before the Flood and 1978's Street Legal), which I'll have reviews for up pretty soon, and a graphic novel, Watchmen.

Now, virtually every comic book geek I actually know (I don't know if this holds true for Adam, but it does for Dav, Chad, and Ev) swear by Watchmen as if it were some sort of holy tome. I've been meaning to get it for some time in order to improve my geek credibility (or "geek cred," as I like to think of it), but funding and inability to track the damn thing down prevented me from doing so. Well, I found it and got it Friday. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it, and I've not been disappointed.

Ev's reaction to my purchasing that particular graphic novel was rather amusing. He asked me why I picked it up, to which I responded that everyone I'd ever talked to about it had wonderful things to say about the book. He couldn't really argue with that, but did I actually have any prior experience with or knowledge of comics? Had I read any other comics? Yes, I told him, I had. I've got Kingdom Come, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: Year One, among a few others. Ev then laughed at me, saying I'd managed to grab all the books that completely redefined how folks thought about comics in the '80s and '90s, the books that totally changed the way and the sort of stories you could tell with sequential art. I told him I didn't mind, as long as they were good. Thusfar, Watchmen is not disappointing.

Anyway, I'll work on reviews for those two Dylan CDs. Look for them sometime today.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)"

Friday, November 12, 2004

"Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi Craves Not These Things"

So I just got done watching Episode II (I think I have some sort of deep-seated self-loathing thing going on), and it occurred to me while I was watching it that the so-called Prequel Trilogy really does have a great story behind it. No, the movies themselves have not turned out to be great (Jar Jar still makes me cringe, as does most of the stilted dialogue), but you can see moments and flashes of brilliance amidst the drech and garbage.

The biggest complaints I have with the prequels as movies are:

(1) The Dialogue. It is too stiff, too dry, and tries too hard. It tries too hard to do many things--be deep, be foreboding, be serious, be funny, etc. There's an unnaturalness to the way characters speak, a sense of hyper-formality that does not fit most of the characters. Anakin especially suffers from this, as does Padme (though in her case it's almost acceptable and to be expected--she was a queen, after all). A couple of bright spots appear in the characters of Obi-Wan and Palpatine, who both seem to exist in a believable sense. But the jokes usually always seem forced (unlike the stuff from, say, Han Solo, or the banter of C-3PO from the original trilogy) and aren't that funny.

(2) Characterization. Anakin is entirely too one dimensional; wooden, flat, lifeless, unbelievable. Padme is barely any better; I think Natalie Portman was sleepwalking through this role. Obi-Wan is fairly consistant and well-done, as is Palpatine. Like I said earlier, they are believable characters. My biggest complaint is actually with Yoda. Yoda from Empire (and even Jedi) is a very different character than is presented here. The climactic lightsaber duel, while looking really neat, does not fit Yoda's character, behavior, or general demeanor at all. Yes, I can accept the idea that Yoda is an amazing swordsman, one of the best there ever was. That idea I can come to grips with. However, he's also a small being of around 900 years of age, and I don't care how much mystical Force one can channel (especially when, as is alluded to in the movie, the Jedi's ability to touch the Force is actually dwindling), Yoda shouldn't be able to bounce around like a five year old in need of Ritalin. Old sword masters tend to develop a very fluid, minimalist style that takes advantage of knowledge, wisdom, and years of practice; only the young leap about like idiots. Obi-Wan's sword style exibited a bit of change from Episode I to Episode II: fewer flourishes, less grandstanding, more economy of effort and movement. Take that idea, and expound upon it: that's how Yoda's sword style ought to be. He would concentrate on using a minimum of effort and energy, focus on using his opponent's movement and strike against them. What happened in the movie was someone decided they could do really cool things with CGI, and thus they had to find a way to toss it in there, whether it fit or not.

But beyond those major complaints (and they do make for a terribly flawed movie), the idea of the prequels is solid. The story is interesting, and in the hands of capable writers and a capable director, Episode II could have been the equal of any of the original films. There are clever concepts in the movie--the idea of the Jedi losing touch with the force, the decay of the Republic, galactic war afoot, the idea of a single being who can bring balance and rejuvenation. The seeds of a great film are in place. But Lucas is still batshit crazy, and he messed it all up. It's a testament to how much I like the story that I'm able to forgive the huge problems with the new flicks.

Like many, I still hold hope for the third film. I still hope and pray that Lucas will get it right this time, that he'll end it on a good note, not a sour one. However, optimistic as I may be, I still recognize that this is the man who refuses to leave his already excellent accidental masterpieces alone, so I go in knowing there's a very good chance I'll be sorely disappointed with Episode III. Maybe someone with talent will come along after Lucas passes, remake the prequels, return the Holy Trilogy to its original glory, and make amends with the geeks. But I doubt it.


Song of the Moment: Radiohead, "Karma Police"

"On This Glary Random Day"

Oklahoma's typically schizophrenic weather struck again today, dropping the temperature about fifteen or twenty degrees between the time I went to bed last night and the time I woke up this morning.

It always seems unseasonably warm in September and October (and even into November) in Oklahoma, as though the temperature should not still be getting up into the seventies (and eighties and ninties in September and October). I marvel at this apparent abberation every year, but today I came to a realization--weather of that sort, with the temperature still so seemingly high, is normal for this place.

See, I've always had what is perhaps an idealized idea of what the weather is supposed to be like after Labor Day. September should start the cooling off process, and it should be cool enough that jeans and a shirt are the preferred clothing, but not so cold yet that you need a coat or scarf or anything. October should drop it down a few more notches, such that a jacket is necessary for comfort. By November, we ought to need coats and perhaps scarves and wooly hats to be warm in prolonged sojurns out into the weather.

But the weather in Oklahoma...never follows that pattern. Maybe I really have dreamed all these years that the weather here follows some other location's patterns. I really think that Oklahoma's weather has always been a bit warmer in the fall months than I wanted to admit. It would make sense, to an extent, but it doesn't explain why virtually everyone marvels year after year at the seemingly bizzare and unpredictable Oklahoma temperatures. We all seem to have been duped by the weather, and every year we all think it should be cooler than it actually is.

Regardless, the dreariness of today's weather kept me closeted away in the bedroom for most of the day. I went to work this morning, came back, ate a bite, and slept for four or five hours. Then I got up and went back to work. I also managed during the two showers I took today to get soap in my left eye. Both times. It's uncanny and inexplicable, much like a tornado in November.

Oh, did I mention we had tornadoes yesterday? Yeah, the inexplicability of life isn't quite so inexplicable to me anymore, I've decided. Weird stuff happens.

Anyway, tomorrow is (thankfully) payday. It's also Amy's last day at work, which makes me more than a little sad. She's a wonderfully sweet young lady who added a measure of charm, beauty, and fun to working there, and her spark and smile will be missed. On the other hand, it gives me a glimmer of hope--she's getting out of here, so can Ev and so can I. We can escape.


Song of the Moment: Radiohead, "How to Disappear Completely"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

"Steal A Lot And They Make You King"

So this afternoon I was forced to go home and change clothes before I came back to work, all because I was wearing jeans and the NCAA folks are supposed to be coming through this afternoon on their inspection thing. Part of me understands that the university wants to put the best possible face forward for all of this crap, but another part of me thinks that if we're getting in trouble because I was wearing jeans instead of khaki pants, someone's priorities are not right.

An email from one of the librarians both made me cheer and made me weep this afternoon. See, Ozarks had this wonderful resource called Early English Books Online. It's a database of thousands of Early Modern English primary sources, ranging from books to pamphlets to sermons to royal proclamations to about anything you can imagine. It's a terrific source of primary material, and Ozarks got it right as I was starting the research for my senior seminar paper (a fortuitous coincidence of timing, I thought).

Anyway, when I came to OU, I was a little disappointed to find that this much larger, much more well-funded institution did not have EEBO. Instead, the OU library had the older, much more annoying microfilm version. Same material, but you have to sit at a microfilm reader and print off page by page, which adds up after awhile. I spent many weekends sequestered away in the bowels of the library, scrounging around in the Early English Books Microfilms, digging for sources and hoping they'd have what I needed, and then spending entirely too much money trying to get decent printouts of the sources.

Well, OU has finally remedied that problem by getting EEBO...after I no longer need it, of course. I've finished my primary source research. That stuff's been done for ages. But I'm still glad they've got it--I'd hate for others to have to go through the hell I went through.

Okay, that's not true. I want others to suffer as well. But I may go and print off a bunch of sources that I don't necessarily need but would like to have, just because.

In his post for today's Shaw Island, Zach Stroum (a funny, funny man) summed up exactly what it is to be a cartoonist:
"Some people lead countries, I tell burrito jokes."

That's about the way it really works, y'know. The purpose of cartoonists is to entertain and, occasionally, maybe make people laugh.

One quibble I do have with Shaw Island now is the art style. I think Mr. Stroum (I hesitate to call him Zach or Stroum, since I don't know him well enough for the former and respect him too much for the latter) has hit the same stylistic barrier I hit about a year ago. Like me, he also has not had any formal training (that I know of) in art, but has instead just sorta picked it up as he went along. Which is fine, since the jokes, characters, and stories have always been what's drawn me to his comic anyway (no pun intended). But he's reached a point where the character designs are too stiff and too blocky. His art has the hallmarks of a guy who watches lots of anime and wants to emulate what he sees, but doesn't quite have the ability to make it work, and so it comes across as too derivative. He needs to break out of his current style. I'm willing to bet that in the next few months, he probably will.

Anyway, the comment still amused me and managed to penetrate the early morning fog that's wrapped around my brain first thing in the morning.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Sweetheart Like You"

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

"The Clock's Been Stuck At 9.15 For Hours"

So I was awoken this morning by someone trying to sell me on a free trial subscription to the New York Times. After telling the woman I was definitely not interested in a free trial of a newspaper I wouldn't ever read, I was frustrated to discover my alarm was going to go off in a few minutes anyway. Annoyed, I went ahead and got up and started my day.

This was the last Tuesday I'd be able to sleep in. Since Amy's leaving for her new job next week, I'm taking over her Tuesday 8.00-12.00 shift. So no more sleeping in during the week for Chuck. Blah.

Work's fairly busy, but onerously so. I still need to draw a comic for tomorrow, so I'm off to do that now. Woo.


Song of the Moment: Norah Jones, "Sunrise"

Monday, November 08, 2004

"Walk Down That Dirt Road"

So we'll lose another employee this week. Amy got herself one of those full time jobs with "benefits," whatever those mysterious things might be. So I get to pick up an additional shift--Tuesday mornings at 8.00. Wee, I just love waking up early. This does give me extra hours (and thus extra money), and it means I'm getting up about the same time everyday...which is probably beneficial in the long run, since it means my schedule is more standardized now.

I'm not sure who is going to cover her other shifts. I'm about the only other person actually capable of making it to work at 8.00 in the morning, though admittedly students don't start rolling in until about 9.00 or 9.30 on a given day.

I do hope Amy is happy at her new job, and I'm glad she was able to find one. We all need to get out of here, none of us can stay in this place for much longer. Hell, I can't even stand being here much longer tonight. I'm ready to go home.


Song of the Moment: Pink Floyd, "Money"

"Open Up The Window And Let Me Breathe"

So my apartment is becoming overrun. Overrun by what, you ask? By Huns? The Visigoths, perhaps? Vikings, maybe, or even the British? No, ladybugs. Freakin' ladybugs.

It happens every fall. There's a gap under my window unit air conditioner, and bugs sorta sneak in under that gap. Well, when I saw the ladybugs on the ceiling, I decided it was time to take action. I have a length of foam padding/insulation for just this purpose, so I crammed some of it under the air conditioner and stopped up the gap and shuttled the ladybugs out of the apartment (without killing them, I might add).

Of course, I found more ladybugs after I'd done that than before. Go figure.

I'm exceptionally tired this evening, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I mean, sure, I had to get up early this morning, but I was asleep last night by 1.00 (which is early for me) and I took a two or three hour nap this afternoon. Bizzare.


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "Little Red Sports Car"

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Taking What They Givin' 'Cause I'm Workin' For A Living"

Work's been busy tonight. I've looked at four papers in the last couple of hours, one of which was long and difficult to actually wade through. It made my head ache terribly, but I managed to slog my way through it. Note for all you research paper writers out there--if you're going to write a paper comparing west African and south Indian music, at least make it interesting, eh?

I've made the pirate pic I mentioned in the previous post the desktop background for both my home computer and the one I use at work. Yarrr, mateys.

I hope when Vicki comes in this evening, she brings us food. I could do with some food, yo. I could do with a swift kick in the head for using the term "yo" like that. And stuff.

I rewrote some of Troubled Times finally. I wasn't at all happy with the first draft of chapter three (which should start next weekend), so I reworked a lot of it and tried to make things more...I dunno, dynamic, and less just talking heads.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "I and I"

Saturday, November 06, 2004

"For You Don't Count The Dead When God's On Your Side"

It's been a quiet, mundane day today. Nothing exciting has happened, no drama has occurred, and I've seen almost literally no one (and would have seen absolutely no one--and thus talked to absolutely no one--had I not gone out to grab some food earlier).

One amusing thing did happen while I was at the corner store earlier this evening. One of the guys in front of me ( aside from looking entirely too financially well off to be fair and too young to be buying all the beer they were getting) was wearing cowboy boots. One of the girls walking into the place as he was walking out happened to comment on this to one of her friends...to which I thought, "yeah, he's got on cowboy boots, and he also just bought some chewing tobacco. I'm sure he completes the image by listening to Travis Tritt or somesuch crap."

There are times when I really want to actually voice thoughts like that and disillusion people about guys running around in cowboy boots. I think cowboys are far too romanticized in American culture. I think entirely too many women--especially in Oklahoma and Texas--see cowboy boots and think the guy must automatically be a catch simply because of his footwear.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. Anyone willing to make a value judgment based on my footwear is obviously not worth knowning.

"But Chuck," you're thinking, "didn't you just make a negative value judgment on this guy based on his footwear?" To which I reply, "No, I did not. I made one based on his footwear, his purchases at the store (beer and chew), his ridiculous 'I spent twenty minutes gelling my hair so it would look all messy and stuff like I'm too busy to comb it' haircut, and the fact that I overheard a bit of his conversation with his buddy. None of it led me to believe this was an individual worth knowing, and he's probably just taking up space and resources by someone who isn't making an effort to kill his braincells with Keystone Light."

Honestly, folks, if you're going to kill your braincells with alcohol, at least make a twenty-year-old single malt scotch or something. The end results are the same, and the scotch doesn't taste like horse piss.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm a pirate, and I have a big anchor. Yarrr.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "With God On Our Side"

Friday, November 05, 2004

"Shuffling His Deck Of Trick Cards"

Random thoughts for the day! Huzzah!

First off, mom said that they finally found Clif a new vehicle. They're taking it to him this weekend. That means the Great Cottrell Car Hunt of '04 is finally over, and we've all got wheels again. This is a load off all of my family's minds, I'm sure. Hell, they'd even enlisted my help in searching, and you know it's serious when they're getting the least-car savvy among us to help look.

Got the apartment cleaned up today, which is nice. Now I have clean dishes again, which means I can actually eat real food for once. The horror!

Chatted with my aunt this afternoon, and she was telling me a couple of things--first, that one of the bands my uncle plays in will be here in Norman next weekend (I fully intend to go see them play), and that I'll be mentioned in the liner notes under Special Thanks in the next Regular Joes CD. Now, this probably doesn't mean anything to most of you, but it's kind of a neat honor that the guys in the band think highly enough of me to want to thank me for coming and listening to them play. And here I thought I was getting the good end of the deal by hearing free rock and roll.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or something like that. It's some big thing where lots of people decide to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I know a few people taking part. I would, except that I've got research papers to write instead, and those take precedence over a novel I don't have a plot, characters, or a story for yet. Maybe next year...

Of course, I also still plan to do a 24 hour comic thing someday, but that hasn't happened yet, either.

Speaking of comics, I came up with an idea for a comic last night, and I'm writing up the script for it at the moment. It's a fairly simple story about a guy who goes to the laundromat and runs into a really beautiful woman there, and what happens between the two of them at the laundromat (that sounds like the plot for a porn, but I promise that's not the direction I'm going). The whole idea of the comic is to give me the chance to try telling a story with pictures rather than words. Whenever I write, even with things like Troubled Times, so much of the story is expressed in dialogue rather than images. I want to try something different and go a more graphic route. There will be some dialogue, just not nearly as much. I think there are actually a few pages in it so far that don't have any dialogue or words on them at all. Anyway, it's a more serious story than I usually write, so it's a challenge on many levels. It'll make me work harder as far as writing, art, and characterization are all concerned. Visual storytelling can be fun, even if it's so tough. I'll keep you posted.


Song of the Moment: Elliot Smith, "Angeles"

"New Radicals - Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too"

So way back in my freshman year of college, this band called the New Radicals came out with an album. I remember the first time I heard them--I was in the basement lounge of King Dorm, watching MTV of all things with several friends. The video for "You Get What You Give" came on, and I was enthralled. These guys sounded like the lovechild of the Rolling Stones and ELO. I went out and bought the CD that very week. It was one of the first CDs I bought for myself (throughout high school, it was always easier to wait for a birthday or Christmas to get new music). Anyway, I loved about half the songs on the album, but over the course of the next couple of years, I got into other stuff that I liked a lot more (like Dylan), and the New Radicals CD languished in the CD tower, unlistened-to, for a couple of years before I finally sold it to CD Warehouse.

Anyway, I ended up downloading a couple of the songs from the album onto my computer, and occasionally listened to those when the mood gripped me. At times, I'd get the urge to hear songs from the CD I couldn't find, but I resisted the urge to go buy the CD again.

Well, 'round about May or so, I finally gave in to temptation and picked up the New Radicals' Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too again. And let me tell you, I'm not disappointed in the CD, and I appreciate it a lot more than I did the first time around.

Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too is one of the best pure pop-rock albums of the late '90s. That may sound like hyperbole, but it's true. The musicianship is tight, well-crafted, and clever, and the lyrics are by turns dark, playful, sexual, and downright bubbly.

The album starts off with the one-two punch of "Mother We Just Can't Get Enough" and "You Get What You Give," two anthematic rockers with sing-along choruses. The former is a wonderful little rave-up opener, while the latter is so bouncy and energetic that you might just miss the deep philosophical underpinnings of the lyrics. "Someday We'll Know" is a heart-wrenching tune with achingly beautiful lyrics and a wonderful vocal delivery. The title track is a murky, hypnotic, stream-of-consciousness rant about...well, I'm not really sure what it's about. The lyrics printed in the liner notes are not the same as the muffled, muttered words in the song unless they've been turned sideways and run through the song that way. From there, the album runs off a string of excellent tunes--"In Need of a Miracle," a sexually-charged love song; "Gotta Stay High," a tune about running away; "Technicolor Lover," a humorous and lusty song with a wonderful faux-horn break; "Flowers," a subtle yet high-energy song about heartbreak; and "Crying Like a Church on Sunday," a song with a metaphor that works surprisingly well for heartache, lose, and loneliness.

Ultimately, the New Radicals gave us a uniformly excellent album which blends the best of the Rolling Stones sexual energy and soul music fascination with the pop craft of ELO. Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too would make a wonderful addition to any music fan's collection.


Song of the Moment: New Radicals, "Someday We'll Know"

Thursday, November 04, 2004

"Old 97's - Satellite Rides"

The Old 97's fifth album, Satellite Rides, picks up where Fight Songs left off. There's less twange to the vocals, less angst to the lyrics, and tighter music than their previous efforts, but the album somehow fails to every really catch on.

Musically, Satellite Rides is an exceptionally tight, crafty album. The tunes are well-excuted, the instrumentation is spot-on, and the beats and tempos are more rock-pop than country. These are tuneful, well-made pop songs with just enough edge and bounce to them to keep your toes tapping along.

Lyrically, the album falls a little flat compared to previous efforts. Few of the songs contain the Old 97's trademark heartbreak, and most of the wit seems a bit too studied and forced. Most of the songs sound like the Old 97's trying to imitate the Old 97's, and they only seem to really gel a few times.

Those few times are exceptional songs, though. "Question" is a wonderful acoustic ballad that isn't nearly long enough; "Am I Too Late" shuffles and skitters like the best stuff from Too Far To Care; and "Up the Devil's Pay" is an excellent tune with a foreboding feel to it in both the lyrics and the tune. Most of the rest of the songs are good, with great hooks and melodies and bouncy, energetic tunes, but by the end of the album, most of the songs just sort of run together, and you're left with an overall sense that you just listened to a disc where most of the songs sort of ran together and felt the same. The songs are by no means bad, just not entirely memorable.

The best part of the album, really, was the six-song bonus disc that came with it. The disc contained five live performances--"Great Barrier Reef," "Victoria," "Nineteen," "Time Bomb," and "Valentine"--and a studio demo cut for Satellite Rides called "Singular." That "Singular" was not included on the album proper is rather sad, since it was as good if not better than most of the songs which made the record.

Ultimately, Satellite Rides is a decent if unremarkable album from the Old 97's. It's a solid effort, full of great melodies and a few memorable songs, but the overall feel of the album leaves something to be desired.


Song of the Moment: Old 97's, "Question"

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"In The Satellite Rides A Star"

So it looks like Kerry conceded and Bush is president for another four years. With that done, let's not talk about politics anymore for a long while, shall we?

I'll spend the next few comics wrapping up the Vote for Jerome storyline, and then go back to random hijinks for a week or two. Everyone loves wacky hijinks, right? Of course you do.

It's not quite 6.00 pm, and it's pitch black outside. I know part of it has to do with the clouds, and the rest is Daylight Savings Time. But this getting dark so early thing will still take some getting used to, as it always does.

I'm ready to leave. I'm ready to eat dinner. I'm ready to not be wearing pants, but you probably could have guessed that anyway.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "The Wicked Messenger"

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

"Open Up Your Eyes"

Well, I went and voted today. The polls in Oklahoma are probably closed at this point, so we should find out pretty soon who got the electoral votes from this state and the rest of the central time zone.

Got the rest of Ev's stuff moved to his new place this afternoon, so that's all taken care of. All in all, it was a pretty productive day.

Anyway, gotta go draw tomorrow's comic.


Song of the Moment: Coldplay, "Politik"

Monday, November 01, 2004

"The Very First Song That The Radio Sang"

So I should really learn to keep my mouth shut, because Murphy's Law just seems to get a kick out of proving me wrong and stuff.

I was sitting here at work, 'round about 7.30, and it was pretty quiet in the Writing Center. We'd had a couple of people come in to have papers proofread, but for the most part I'd been left to reading manga and playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (yes, I've started playing that freakin' addictive game again. Curse you, Square-Enix!). I quipped to my coworkers that it was just so busy, I didn't know how we were gonna be able to keep up. We laughed.

I just now finally have time to sit still, and it's two hours later. Not five minutes after I made my remark, we were swamped. We remained swamped. There are still some people in here, but we've had a chance to relax some finally and we're not all trying to help two or three people at once.

It's like reality likes taking what I say or do and just tossing it back at me to see how I react. Well, up yours, reality.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Tweedle-Dee & Tweedle-Dum"

"Eden Is Burning"

It's been a productive morning. Got up this morning, thinking I was actually running late, only to discover that (genius that I am) I'd set my alarm but not set my clock back so that it actually displayed the correct time. So, while the clock said I was waking up at 7.30, it was really only 6.30 when I got up. So I had a good hour to kill after I showered and got ready, and decided to use part of that to go have some breakfast at Braum's. I'd been craving biscuits and gravy since last night, when Ev and Vicki and I were discussing southern food at work, so I decided to go have some.

My craving sated, I went off to class. At the end of class, Dr. Magnusson said we weren't meeting tonight. What she said was "no class on Wednesday." What I heard was "Chuck, you can sleep in on Wednesday."

Anyway, after class, I went to pay rent (and a bit of tuition...only $225 left on that!), and then went over to the library to discuss that $500 "lost book" fee they'd slapped on my account. That'll disappear once I've got all the books returned to them (they aren't really lost, per se, simply waaaaay overdue, 'cause I have a poor sense of time and keep forgetting to take the books back).

So yeah, I was productive. Scary. For my next trick, I'll actually get off my ass and do the last bit of work on my Master's Thesis...maybe.


Song of the Moment: Coldplay, "Clocks"