Saturday, December 31, 2005

"It's The End Of The [Year] As We Know It"

Well, 2005 doesn't have much life left in it. I'm getting ready to head out for a party with a few of my friends, so when next I post, it'll be 2006.

This year ended on a weird note, a rather surreal moment that drove home the fact that my life has completely and totally altered. Even if I fail out here in Virginia and have to return to Oklahoma, it won't be the same. Dad told me this afternoon that he went down to the courthouse yesterday afternoon and got the divorce between he and my mother finalized. They are now no longer legally married.

And it's funny, though not ha-ha funny: it didn't really bother me, per se. I mean, sure, it bothered me. My parents are irrevocably divorced, and there's no way mom'll go back to dad even if one or both of them wanted it. A part of my life ended today with the old year, just as a part of theirs is now over. I think, deep down, they both still love each other deeply; hell, they've both said as much to me on separate occasions. They just...drifted. I think my father has made this bizarre effort to isolate himself from anyone and everyone. All he does is work.

The frightening thing is...I can feel myself do something similar. I know I have his tendency to shut myself off from everyone else. Admittedly, I'm not anywhere near as much a workaholic as he is, but I do have his tendency to throw myself into whatever project I'm working on rather than facing what's bothering me.

It's a fine line to tread. In talking with my folks, I can see that they're both saddened by what's happened--I can even hear it in my father's voice, and I think he got as close to crying as I've ever seen him when we chatted this afternoon about it--but there's also this weight off of both of them the past week or two, even back during Christmas. Sure, things were a little tense, but my father smiled more easily than I've seen in ages, and my mom didn't nag nearly as much as she usually does.

And so when dad told me that they were officially divorced, a part of me felt great remorse. My childhood--which, really, ended sometime during college, I guess--was irrevocably closed off today.

Childhood has to end. It's a part of the growing up process, and these things just happen. Divorce happens; it happens to about 50% of those who get married in this country. Maybe this speaks to a problem with how quickly a lot of our citizens get married. But then you do have people like my parents, who were married--rather happily, for the most part--for 29 years. How do they fit in? Is it empty nest syndrome? Is it mid-life crisis? I don't know. It just happens. I never thought it would happen to my family, but it did. That's just how things are now.

My life will never be the same. My visits home will never be the same. Mom said as much on our drive home from visiting my grandparents Christmas Day. "You know this is the last Christmas like this we'll have," she said.

"Yeah, I know," I said. We both agreed that we'd probably still do the whole Christmas Eve at dad's parents' house and Christmas Day at mom's parents' house, but this would be the last time we--mom, dad, Clif, Scott, and myself--would spend the holiday together as a family. This is how our family has evolved. Maybe it's for the best, maybe it just destroys everything. I don't know.

This has all turned out much more morbidly than I originally intended. The divorce is fairly major, and it's colored my whole time in Virginia so far, and it put a strange cap on the year, but it was hardly the overblown, dramatic moment I'm making it out to be. Maybe a heartbreaking personal epiphany for me, but I didn't break down in tears or anything. I've accepted that this is the way things are, and I've dealt with it.

Anyway, on a significantly lighter note, I'm due at a party pretty soon. Some drinking might occur. I apologize in advance to anyone I call while even slightly inebriated. When/if we talk, remember that I tend to still use big words when I've had a few, I just slur them more.

And honestly, is there anything more entertaining than hearing someone slur the word "disquietude."


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, George Harrison, & Eric Clapton, "My Back Pages (Live)" <--best version EVER

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Nobody Can Sing The Blues Like Blind Willie McTell"

Okay, I have to admit it: I've started listening to some bluegrass and country.

In my defense, the only member of my family who hasn't started down this road is Scott, and he's exceptionally picky about his music (he only listens to like three bands: Journey, Styx, and Boston). Dad has started listening to my uncle's band the way I was when I lived in Oklahoma (which means about every weekend), and they tend to play a lot of country. He doesn't seem to mind. Clif has really gotten into Johnny Cash and Hank Williams (among his presents this Christmas: a song book of Johnny Cash and one of Hank Williams and the Johnny Cash box set). Mom owns a freakin' Rascal Flatts CD (which I had to give her no end of trouble about: I mean, Johnny Cash is one thing, but Rascal Flatts? That's just pop with some twangy whine to it).

Me? I've been drifting that direction ever-so-slowly. It all started with Glen Phillips, oddly enough. His collaborations with Nickel Creek got me interested in that band. His interest in another band really set me down the path, though: Wilco.

Yeah, I started listening to Wilco because I heard someone request a Wilco song on one of Phillips's live sets I'd downloaded. Yeah, that's right: he didn't actually play one of their songs, but someone had clearly heard him do their stuff before, and he clearly liked their stuff.

I've had this problem--if it can be called that--for years. I have a tendency to seek out music I've heard someone else talk about simply because they talked about it. I started listening to Cake, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, the Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Fruvous, and Wilco this way. There are others. For instance, I purchased an Alison Krauss CD just this evening because my uncle mentioned that he liked them.

So I started listening to Wilco. About the same time, I heard a Rhett Miller CD playing in Borders one evening, bought it on a whim, and then began pursuing albums by the group he was in, the Old 97s.

These two bands opened me up to the joys of alt-country. I started listening to Uncle Tupelo, and Whiskeytown, and Ryan Adams, and Blue Mountain, and Healthy White Baby. I heard the Greencards open for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and I pursued their music as well. I pursued the roots of American music, seeking out the beginnings of the things I listen to now.

And I figured out why I really enjoyed these bands, this style of music and things of similar ilk like Woody Guthrie, Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and even the Band and Neil Young: because this was music about feeling, emotion, about conveying something in one's playing and one's voice that goes beyond the mere words sang or hitting the right key or playing note perfect. The way I figured it, there are two kinds of musicians out there. This applies mostly to folk, country, rock, and the blues (especially the blues), but to an extent it applies to all music. The first kind of musician relies on precision and perfection to convey emotional content. Good examples include BB King, Clapton beginning around his stint with Derek and the Dominoes, and Sting. Their music is designed to be expressive via its exactitude. BB King, for instance, plays every single note of his guitar solos perfectly. There's never a mistake, and that precision conveys a piercing, sharp emotion: his blues. Clapton is much the same way.

On the other hand, you have people who rely on tone and energy to convey emotional content. Let's face it: Dylan, Young, and so many of the others I enjoy can't sing at all. Dylan and Young are especially guilty of not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. But while they may not hit every note perfectly--and are in fact quite sloppy sometimes--they compensate by putting significant energy into their work. When Dylan sings of a wounded heart or a girl who has done him wrong, you feel it in your gut. When he sings that the world is so fucked up that the only man who could sing about it effectively is Blind Willie McTell, you feel that the world is that fucked up in your very gut. The emotional content is exhibited in the enthusiasm and the effort, not in the precision. This is why some Dylan albums really fall flat: his music is not compelling when he phones in his vocals. Take Slow Train Coming, for example. The music is decent if not exactly memorable. It could be a decent album in the hands of a precise singer, but Dylan doesn't sing like that. His vocals are flat on this record, and it kills the emotional content of an album that ought to be all about uplifting the spirit and presenting Dylan's new worldview.

The whole point of all this is that most country, folk, blues, and bluegrass musicians (though bluegrass to a lesser extent than the others) focuses on crafting a tone or feeling for the music through effort of will rather than precision or skill. Dylan's not the best singer or guitarist in the world, but his best work is exceptionally evocative nonetheless. These folks get it: you don't have to play perfectly to get your point across. Sure, precision is an excellent way of conveying emotional content, but there are other ways that don't require perfection. A lot of the bands I listen to now are steeped in this idea of getting the emotional content across in whatever way is necessary or possible, and it's a method I myself try to employ (mostly because I'm not all that good at playing or singing, either).

Anyway, tonight I purchased the aforementioned Alison Krauss CD (which is great: I mean, it's got a cover of Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty." How could you not like it?) and the Greencards. I haven't had a chance to listen to the latter CD yet, but I've heard them in concert before, so I know it'll be worthwhile.


Song of the Moment: Alison Krauss and Union Station, "Pastures of Plenty"

"My Friday Night Enfant"

Christmas back home wasn't too bad last weekend. The trip was whirlwind, as I knew it would be, but everyone got along, there were no outbursts or tantrums or anything of that nature, no moments that were truly awkward. Present-wise, I got some nifty stuff: three new pair of jeans (both grandmothers decided that my request for a single new pair of jeans was simply not enough), a couple of giftcards (to Target and to Best Buy), Toy Story and Episode III on DVD, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born to Run, and a few videogames. And cash. Quite a bit of cash. Of course, last but certainly not least, there's the guitar, my pride and joy, but we already knew I had that and I've gushed over it enough. Suffice to say it still captivates me and holds my attention like something shiny would a football player.

Travelling to and from Oklahoma posed fewer problems than I'd imagined it would from too many viewings of Die Hard 2 (y'know, the one where they hijack the airport and the planes can't land and all that). Our only problem was a one-hour delay going to Oklahoma Friday evening, but we ended up only being about 40 minutes later than we'd anticipated in our arrival, and my parents had only just arrived at the airport themselves to pick us up, so that worked out well. Returning, the only trouble we had was with a manicure kit Wendy had in her bag. It contained some sort of tool thing that apparently had some sort of blade, and they made her check her baggage with the thing (even though she'd already been through two different airports with it by this time: this was on our connecting flight from Kansas City to Baltimore on the way back to the East Coast). This was apparently the third time in as many trips that she's tried to bring the manicure kit along with her, and each time they've flagged it. Personally, I'd have stopped bothering with the damn thing after the first time, but I wasn't about to say anything to her about it.

Anyway, it's been nice not having to work this week. I'm not quite to the point where I'll say that I'm ready to jump back into work, and I'd really prefer to have another week or two off like I did in college, but I think I'll be ready to get back to it when the time comes.


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Nos da Cariad"

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Hotel Senator"

So here we are, mere hours from my return to Oklahoma. I still need to pack, possibly draw another comic, and do a couple of other things. So what am I actually doing? Surfing the internet.

Yeah, that's right, I'm procrastinating like a mo-fo. Why drop my M.O. at this point in my life, right?

I really am looking forward to going home, though I know there will quite possibly be some awkwardness. Oddly enough, mom is accompanying dad to come pick us up at the airport. This is probably a good sign: if they can stand a car ride together, they can probably make it through Christmas morning.

'Tis the season, folks. Have a safe and happy holiday, and I'll be back in a few days.


Song of the Moment: Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLaughlin, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Top 10 of 2005"

As is readily apparent to anyone who's ever spoken with me, read anything I've written, or just heard about me through various other people, I'm obsessed with music. I have music playing constantly, or I'm writing it, or I'm playing it on the guitar, or I'm singing random snatches of songs throughout my day, or I'm talking about it. Writing about it. I'm caught up in music. As such, the folks down at Best Buy know me a little too well, and the cashiers at Tower Records are on something approaching a first-name basis.

But all that is immaterial, because the fact of the matter is that I like my music and I found some pretty damn good albums this year. It's hard to pare it down to just ten from this year that I feel are the absolute best, but I've done what I could. So, in no particular order:

1. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses: a double album from the prolific to a fault Adams that kicked off a year that saw three full albums from the man (the third, 29, comes out tomorrow). While Cold Roses suffers from an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to song selection, the songs on here that are good are really good and more than make up for the filler that you tend to find on one of his albums. Best tracks include "Magnolia Mountain," "Easy Plateau," and especially "Let it Ride."

2. Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Volume 7 - No Direction Home: the latest in The Bootleg Series concentrates on the first few years of Dylan's career, from his early days as an acoustic folkie to his stormy electric breakouts. This collection of outtakes, live tracks, and even a few unreleased cuts proves why Dylan is such a cultural force in American music. Standouts include alternate takes of "Mr. Tambourine Man," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again."

3. Gorillaz, Demon Days: less hip-hop-oriented than the cartoon band's previous outing, it's still damn fun music. Damon Albarn manages to blend different genres and sounds into a cohesive, toe-tapping whole that you can't help but enjoy...even if you have no idea what the hell they're singing about. Favorites include "Dirty Harry," "Feel Good Inc.," and "Dare."

4. Van Morrison, Magic Time: every year or so, Van the Man releases another album that reminds you that he's still the best at what he does: fusing Celtic swing, blue-eyed soul, and jazz into a fun, warm sound that's irresistable. Best songs include "Stranded," "Celtic New Year," and the title track.

5. My Morning Jacket, Z: with vocals that feel like they're coming from the other end of existence and a dense, melodic sonic collage that would make Brian Wilson proud, My Morning Jacket have crafted one of the best damn albums I've heard in a long time. It's pure Americana, blending pop, country, psychadelia, and whatever else Jim James and the boys felt like throwing into the mix into a near-perfect album. Songs to listen to are "Wordless Chorus," "Lay Low," and "Off the Record."

6. Glen Phillips, Winter Pays for Summer: a solid album of strummy, folky pop-rock from the former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman. The sound is cleaner and smoother than his previous solo effort, abulum, but this just makes it feel like more of an extension of latter-day Toad. Coupled with the fact that it includes long-time fan favorites such as "Easier," "Thankful," and "Falling," and you've got an album worth checking out.

7. Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard: any McCartney solo album must be approached with caution lest one succomb to the sugary sweetness of his ballads and the inordinate number of throwaway and filler tracks that seem to populate his records. That's why Chaos is such a fantastic record: Nigel Godrich stripped away all of McCartney's pretensions, all of his tendencies to toss off half-baked songs and call it an album. What's left is a reminder of why so many of our favorite songs have McCartney's name on them somewhere. Best cuts include "Fine Line," "Jenny Wren," and "Riding to Vanity Faire."

8. Son Volt, Okemah and the Melody of Riot: I'm not sure what a "Melody of Riot" is, but I know that Okemah is a small town in Oklahoma where Woody Guthrie was born. With that knowledge in mind, Jay Farrar (formerly of Uncle Tupelo) crafts a batch of alt-country songs that use his work with Uncle Tupelo and the work of Guthrie as a starting point. It's a solid, well-made album in an era when too many records are just bashed out for quick cash. It may not be groundbreaking, but it's definitely damn fine music. Best songs include "Afterglow 61," "Jet Pilot," and "World Waits for You."

9. Wilco, Kicking Television: yes, it's a live album, but it's a live album that reminds us of why Wilco is such a great band: the fact that they can really cut loose and rock hard when they want to. And make no mistake, the boys cut loose on this record, pounding mercilessly on some of the finest songs from their catalog. What makes this live album essential rather than redundant is that they tweak songs just enough to make them fresh and new without changing the core of what the song is all about. Highlights include "Shot in the Arm," "Hummingbird," "Jesus, Etc.," and a relentless "Kicking Television."

10. Wallflowers, Rebel, Sweetheart: another album where the point isn't to break new ground but to consolidate strengths. The Wallflowers craft some of the finest traditionalist roots-rock out there, carving their own niche out of the territory Jakob Dylan's father Bob, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp first explored. Jakob's songwriting talents grow with each record, and this particular album benefits from the presence of producer/guitarist Brendan O'Brien. Standouts include "Here he Comes (Confessions of a Drunken Marionette)," "From the Bottom of my Heart," and "Nearly Beloved."

Honorable Mentions: there were more than just ten great albums this year; as I said, I had a tough time narrowing it down to just these ten. Some of the other standouts this year were Ben Folds's Songs for Silverman, Mike Doughty's Haughty Melodic, Coldplay's X&Y, the Foo Fighters' In Your Honor, Bruce Springsteen's Devils + Dust, Charlie Sexton's Cruel and Gentle Things, and Jackson Browne's Solo Acoustic, Volume 1.


Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "Magnolia Mountain"

"Next Time You See Her"

Saw The Chronicles of Narnia this weekend. It was a good flick, but Wendy and I agreed: it was merely good. There's nothing truly flawed or wrong with it, nor is there anything particularly awe-inspiring or jaw-droppingly fantastic about it. It's a solid film with some well-done special effects and all that jazz. It's the sort of movie that, had it appeared before Lord of the Rings, would have been hailed as a masterpiece. Now it's an almost run-of-the-mill epic fantasy film. It felt for all the world like LOTR Lite. Which isn't particularly fair to either Narnia or LOTR (the books or the films), which are both fantastic pieces of art that strive for very different goals.

I got a rather wonderful package in the mail Friday. Let me give you a hint:

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Not obvious enough? Well, how about these:

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That's right, my new guitar arrived in the mail Friday evening (just after I'd finished a phone conversation with my father about how the guitar hadn't arrived yet. Sweet, sweet irony). To say that I am pleased with my new Martin is to grossly understate the circumstances. I think it would be fair to say that it fills a void in my life, a Martin-shaped hole that I hadn't even been aware existed. The guitar plays as beautifully as it looks, and I can't even begin to thank my dad enough for getting it for me.

That last sentence felt weird, mostly because I singled out my father as the buyer of the present (which is my big Christmas present this year...though even if it'd been the only thing I received, I'd've been perfectly content). It's accurate, though: dad was responsible for the big present, and mom's getting us a few small things (DVDs, CDs, books, things like that). It's weird to think that the presents will be divided like that this year: that we won't have presents that say "From Mom and Dad" on them as we always have. It's just another physical reminder of the fact that my parents aren't together anymore. It's a tough idea to wrap my head around, and this weekend is going to be rather awkward because of it, I think. I'm sure we'll get through, but that's not saying it'll be a piece of cake or anything.

This time Friday, though, I'll be on my way to Oklahoma. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone, especially since I haven't seen any of my family in like five months.


Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "Take It Easy"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Hey Mr. DJ"

This is almost enough to convince me to get XM Radio. Admittedly, we're talking about Bob just spinning the records that catch his fancy and talking about whatever the hell it is he mumbles about. But honestly, at this point I'd probably pay money for him to sit there and read the phone book while he strummed a guitar, so maybe I'm not the most objective person for this matter.

We only had a half day at school today because of the weather. In a way, I was glad for the break, but I really think they need to stop burning through all of our snow days so early. We've still got January and February to get through, and the weather today didn't really warrant shutting the county schools down as far as I could tell. Admittedly, I think school closings are based on how well the buses can navigate the roads, so if there was concern that the buses couldn't operate in the crap we ended up with by the time school should have been out (a slushy rain. Mostly rain), then I guess I can see the wisdom in closing down.

And hey, I never mind working half a day for a full day's pay.

Still counting down the hours until the new guitar arrives. I was hoping (irrationally) that it might get here this afternoon--y'know, early--but no such luck. Honestly, it wasn't a logical expectation, but I'm anxious to get my hands on a Martin of my very own. Can you really blame me?

Part of me will miss playing the Fender, 'cause I know I won't really play it all that much after I get the Martin. I mean, why would I? I'll probably still use it for the Music Club at school, because I really don't want to take the Martin there (that's just asking for trouble), but aside from that, the Martin will get all the playing time. The Fender's been a good guitar, though, a great instrument to start out on. Considering it was also a gift from my father, I'm definitely hanging onto it (despite a couple of kid in the Music Club asking if I'd be willing to sell it).

I baked cookies tonight for school tomorrow. I feel all domestic and stuff. Now to play a couple of rounds of MarioKart DS before bed.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Christmas All Over"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"A Red Guitar On Fire"

A conversation with my mother this evening revealed that my guitar has been ordered and that it will most likely arrive this Friday or the following Monday. This is of considerable news to me, as I wasn't expecting to see it until something right before we left for Oklahoma. I figured at least another week or two.

I looked in a mirror yesterday afternoon and realized I looked like I hadn't slept since 1945 (an impressive feat, given that I wasn't born until 1980. That's right: I'm a retroactive insomniac). It was rather frightening: the skin around my eyes was blotchy and palid, with a sort of sickly yellowish cast to it. I looked almost...creepy.

Granted, I haven't really changed my sleeping habits. I was awake until almost 2.00 last night, and here it is almost midnight tonight and I'm still up. Over the break, I need to get myself into the habit of going to bed early so I can get plenty of sleep. The chances of this actually happening are slim, but it's fun to say I'll try.

We've been dealing with karma at the apartment this week. On the one hand, we've heard dozens of glowing praises for Wen's production of Oz. On the other, she got a five page diatribe yesterday from an unknown misnathrope (a note and plea: if you're going to bash and badmouth someone, please at least own up to doing it. Put your damn name on it, people!) that made every effort to belittle Wendy and the entire theatre department's achievement. I was rather miffed. Wen thinks she knows who it might've been (she has it narrowed down to a couple of possible suspects). Regardless of who it was, it was a cowardly and callow attack that showed a complete lack of decency or understanding of how this show was produced and put on. There were also scads of grammatical mistakes, and I took a certain vicious glee in finding most of them in a cursory read-through.

To end on a positive note, though: I ran into the apartment building's tenant leader, a teacher from a local middle school, and she had nothing but glowing praise for the show to pass on to Wen. It all balances out in the end, I say.


Song of the Moment: Coldplay, "What If"

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Coldplay - X&Y

My interest in Coldplay waxes and wanes depending on how mopey I'm feeling. Chris Martin is a bit of a sadsack, dwelling in a personal space fraught with a meloncholy of the 18th century British variety: there's lots of laborious sighs, wistful navel gazing, and the feeling that this will all end in someone dying of consumption or tuberculosis. Martin's lyrics are so introspective that you feel like he's taken a page from his diary, set it to gently-swelling, anthematic Brit-pop, and recorded it for general consumption.

Which isn't to say it's bad music. I really enjoyed Rush of Blood to the Head, and I have to admit that Martin & Co. have a knack for soaring choruses and catchy hooks. But I'd heard that X&Y was ballad-heavy, and with a band like Coldplay--who start out pretty clearly in ballad territory on most of their tracks anyway--this is saying something. I'm not real big on ballads, to be honest: it all seems a little too forced anymore, and how many ways can you really write a song about heartbreak and wanting the girl back, anyway?

Well, Coldplay don't reinvent the wheel on X&Y. In fact, the album follows the pattern established on Coldplay's previous releases almost too closely. Ultimately, that's the album's biggest weakness: it's too by-the-numbers, too similar to its predecessor. The songs still sound good--as I said, Coldplay has a knack for catchy hooks and all--but it's a fairly predictable record. You can tell where the guitar fill will slot in, how the piano bit will start out the song, when Chris Martin will hit his perfect "I sound like my balls still haven't dropped" falsetto in a chorus. There's no surprises on the record, and that's what keeps it from being a mind-blowing album.

This isn't to say that X&Y isn't very, very good. It is. The band have a phenomenal sense of songcraft, and everything is done with the precision of a band much more mature than Coldplay's three proper albums suggests. And while the songs may not rock out in the conventional sense--but who really expects them to?--there's some fantastic uptempo numbers on the record that are hard not to like.

And that's really just it: it's hard not to like this record for what it is. It tries to be arty, but it's middle-of-the-road arty, so it doesn't alienate folks. The lack of surprises does have one positive point: you know the songs are going to be good. Tracks like "White Shadows" and "Speed of Sound" soar like vintage U2, sans the ubiquitous echo delay effect The Edge put on every guitar part between 1980 and 1991 (though even that pops up a couple of times on X&Y).

There's an earnestness to the record that makes you want to alternately nod your head in total agreement with the sentiment Martin is expressing and smack him and tell him to take himself a little less seriously. Honestly, he gets a little too wound-up in his navel gazing. He wants to be the next Bono, but he lacks the lyrical sweep of Bono. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing: Bono's social opinions are all well and good, but he tends to shove it into your face without the benefit of subtlety sometimes ("Bullet the Blue Sky," anyone?).

Ultimately, X&Y is a solid album that sticks with a proven formula. This keeps it from being a classic, but it's definitely worth a listen. Why fix what's not broken, right?


Song of the Moment: Coldplay, "White Shadows"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Imagine All The People"

Tonight is the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. It still boggles my mind that anyone would even want to consider such an act. Lennon was a man of incredible creativity and vitality, a man adored by millions worldwide, and he was gunned down by a man who was clearly not in his right mind in an instant that defies reason, logic, and common sense.

Part of me always wonders what it would've been like if Lennon had lived. A cynical part of me feels that his death was actually for the best: he was cut down while he was still a force to be reckoned with, not a worn-out star whose heyday was years behind him. We might have had to suffer through ill-advised Beatles reunions, the Lads attempting to catch lightning in a bottle the second time around and tarnishing their legacy. As it stands, we dream of the music Lennon could have made, but never had the chance to. It's a sad thought, of course. He may have crafted another song as beatiful as "Imagine," as powerful as "Revolution," as surreal as "I am the Walrus." But we'll never know.

Thus, it's a day of reflection and mourning, a day to remember what was and what could have been. God rest you, John: of all people, you deserve some peace.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I Saw The Snow Fall In Black And White"

Let's recap the last week or so, shall we?

I spent all of last week either at Accotink teaching or at Wen's school helping get everything ready for Oz. I got roped into helping the witch "melt," and ended up with a headful of glitter for my troubles (long story). The show was a great success, selling roughly 2700 tickets over the course of the three-day run. We sold out Friday night and had great shows the rest of the time. I ran things on Saturday evening's show, so of course several things requiring important decisions on my part cropped up that evening. We muddled through, though, and we're all damn proud of how the show did.

Sunday was spent striking the set. We got all the important stuff done that afternoon, though we didn't get to repain the entire floor like Wen wanted to (in part because we couldn't find enough of the right kind of paint for them). It was strange seeing the auditorium empty like that, all the set pieces broken down and stored away. The show went by much too quickly, though.

Sunday night, Michelle came over and we exchanged Christmas presents. I got her Neil Gaiman's Mirror Mask and My Morning Jacket's Z, and she got me a collection of out-of-print/unpublished Dashiell Hammet stories and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which is easily one of the coolest presents ever.

It snowed yesterday afternoon/evening, ultimately meaning today was a delayed start morning: we didn't start classes until 10.30. Personally, these delay mornings strike me as ridiculous. Take the Oklahoma route, people: either have school or don't! Stop piddling around!

Last night managed to convince me that I'm glad I'm not a business/marketing major. I proofread a paper for Scott, and the paper was the driest, most monotonous thing I've read in a long time. Of course, the fault didn't really lie with my sibling: he's a good writer, it's just a crappy format/style to write in.

I also learned how to play the Flaming Lips' "Fight Test" on the guitar last night, which made me ridiculously happy. On a related note, dad says he'll be ordering my new guitar sometime in the next day or so, meaining I'll receive it before Christmas. This is a good thing.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Rain on the Scarecrow"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"I'm Going Where There's No Depression"

I'm damn-near totally exhausted. I've been helping Wen with preparations for Oz all week, and given how worn out I am, I can only imagine how she currently feels. The show opens tonight, though, so we'll be done with this behemoth by Sunday.

Another stress factor this weekend is the visit of Wen' parents. They're coming into town to see the show and meet Tim's folks. Personally, I'm of the opinion that this is something we could do without this weekend, but we don't always get to choose our days.

Thankfully, though, work's going well. Most of my students have been exceptionally well-behaved this week, making my job significantly more enjoyable. Even being as tired as I've been from running around all over the place, I still look forward to work every day.


Song of the Moment: My Morning Jacket, "At Dawn"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"You Went To Bed With Your Darkest Mind"

It's been a pretty good break so far. Thursday, Wendy, Tim, and I went to a little French restaurant downtown for dinner. I had lobster bisque, some sort of salmon thing stuffed with crabmeat, lobster, and crawfish, and a thing called a chocolate molten (chocolate brownie thing filled with warm liquid chocolate). It was a great meal, but for as much as it cost, it should've been.

Wendy somehow convinced me to go shopping with her, Meg, and Michelle at Potomac Mills yesterday. Now, I usually make it a habit to not go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Sure, you find great bargains, but all the stupid people you have to contend with usually counterbalances any benefits. Anyway, we really lucked out: found a great parking spot, managed to avoid most of the really stupid people by the utilization of a "don't bother me you idiot" field, and actually found some pretty spiffy stuff. Now, the funny thing is, most of the things we bought were not for Christmas presents. Wen found some shelf things at IKEA to store videos in, I found a TV stand for my room at the same, a suit jacket (regularly like $300, on sale for $40. How could I have passed that up?), and some flannel sheets. Admittedly, I've only got three or four people left to shop for and payday is next week, but part of me felt a little guilty for shopping for myself. Then Wendy reminded me that all the stuff I was getting was stuff no one else would've got for me, so that was okay.

After getting my TV stand, though, I came home and decided to rearrange my bedroom. I shifted several things over in the room so that the bed isn't right next to the window, moved the nightstand that the TV was on to between the bed and the window, and put the TV and various other stuff on the TV stand. Looks like it'll work out real well, actually. Besides, the TV stand was only $15.

Anyway, I'm off to do laundry and write lesson plans for the coming week or two. Wee.


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"When The Devil Came, He Was Not Red"

Ah, the final day before Thanksgiving. It's only a half day here at the school, which I've no complaints about. I think I'm going to help Wen do some painting at her school after class lets out this afternoon.

Had a long chat with the director of the school yesterday. Basically she asked me if I was still even interested in teaching, given that I've seemed less than enthusiastic lately. And while it was a valid question, I'm still a little hurt by the way she phrased it. There were probably several better ways for her to have phrased the question. I mean, she could have just asked if I thought I was doing okay or if there was anything she could do to help make my job easier or less frustrating. You'd think a woman who is concerned with making sure we treat these kids with respect and don't bruise their fragile egos would be more tactful, but that's surely beside the point.

Honestly, her question was valid. I've been struggling with a couple of my classes and feeling rather disengaged. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, and the reintegrated English 8 class has gone a long way to lowering my frustration level. We'll just have to see how it goes from here.

Well, duty calls, and it looks like the bitch is calling collect.


Song of the Moment: Eric Clapton, "The Core"

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wilco - Kicking Television - Live in Chicago

Wilco's recent albums have pushed boundaries and challenged their listeners, but they've moved away from the raw energy of their earlier releases. This isn't to say they haven't been great albums, simply that the band has focused on creating a mood and a powerful style rather than on rocking out. Kicking Television changes that.

First and foremost, you'll notice that the mannered, measured style of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born has been exchanged for energy and unfettered enthusiasm. Listen to the crescendo at the end of the album opener, "Misunderstood," with the band pounding on their instruments as Jeff Tweedy screams the word "nothing" over and over again. Guitars are looser, Tweedy's vocals are more raw, and the band is so in-tune with one another than even missed notes feel like they are a necessary part of the greater plan.

The best thing about Kicking Television is that Wilco doesn't simply trot out the their best-known tunes and play them exactly the same as they appear on the album. They alter each song just enough to make the songs fresh, new, and somehow familiar and comfortable. Take the organ in "Hell is Chrome," or the Neil Young-like guitar solo in "The Late Greats." The violin part from "Jesus, Etc." is played by a pedal steel guitar to great effect.

Song selection is fantastic on this album. Virtually all of the songs come from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Ghost, with a couple from SummerTeeth, "Misunderstood" from Being There, and a pair of Mermaid Avenue tunes, "One by One" and "Airline to Heaven." The album ebbs and flows well, switching gears from up-tempo to slow and meditative without any stumbles.

Really, this album stands as a testament to the band's power as a live act. Song selection is excellent, the band is on fire throughout, and the audience responds accordingly. This record casts Wilco's songs in a new light, the band reinventing the tunes to exceptional effect. This album is a must have for any Wilco fan.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Shot in the Arm (Live)"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Where Are You Tonight Sweet Marie?"

Busy, busy week behind me. My English 8 class got reintegrated into the other class on Thursday, mostly as a result of me finally losing my temper with the little bastards on Wednesday and spending a good ten minutes chewing the kids out. That day made me feel like a complete failure, mostly because the kids finally made me lose my cool. It probably didn't help that, in the middle of my tirade about how their behavior made it impossible for me to teach them, they started bickering and fighting again and I just lost it and yelled at them and sent them to the dean's office.

But the reintegration has helped. The kids are better behaved, in part because there are other kids for them to interact with and the two who do not like one another don't have to deal with each other. It's made the rest of my school day that much easier to deal with, too.

Wen, Tim, and I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night. It was a good film, though I could have waited to see it (opening night + small children = a somewhat annoying movie experience, but at least there weren't too many little little kids). My biggest complaint is that the plot seems so streamlined. I understand why they have to do it (it's tough to cram 800 pages into a 2 1/2 hour film), and why each film has cut more and more of the extraneous subplots away (each book has been longer than the last, of course), but it's hard not to wish for some of the side stuff--like the whole thing with Rita Skeeter being an illegal animagus (yeah yeah, spoiler spoiler, but the book's several years old and well past the statute of limitations at this point, I'm sure) or any of a dozen other little things that the books have that the movies don't--because the film seems a little unbalanced because of it. It's rather like Lucas's Star Wars Prequels: they're real heavy on plot, everything has to happen in rapid succession, and there's less time for character development because you spend all your time telling the core story. It's the side stories that add the extra details, the quirks of character that take someone from being a two-dimensional cookie-cutter hero to being a fully-actualized human being. Admittedly, this is also just part of the problem with adapting a movie from a book, but it's hard not to wish that you could see more of Harry than just "reluctant hero" or more of Ron than just "mopey putz," etc.

I also managed to get a haircut this week. Admittedly, Wendy cut it for me, so it was free, and it's not the most perfect haircut ever, but it's serviceable and my hair is shorter and I don't look like a complete moe.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "Absolutely Sweet Marie (Live)"

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"He's Here To Rectify"

So I decided the other day that the automobile industry has finally just started picking words completely at random for car names when I saw an SUV by Isuhzu called an Axiom.

That's right, Axiom. The thing that's like a postulate. I expect to see the Toyota Aphorism or the Nissan Philosophical Concept anyday now.

I got a lot of my Christmas shopping done yesterday. As far as family members are concerned; I just need to find something for dad. And find stuff for my friends. But I've got presents for mom, Scott, and Clyde already.

I also picked up Wilco's Kicking Television yesterday, and it makes me happy in ways I can't share in polite company.

Okay, back to work, I guess. School calls.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Wishful Thinking (Live)"

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Jokers To The Right"

Despite the fact that it's been a "short" week (what with having no students on Monday and Tuesday...but still had to work, what with workshops and doing grades and stuff), it's been a terribly trying week. I can't really explain what's been so bad about it, aside from waking up late for work Wednesday and Thursday, having a terrible time with students' behavior in my English class, and getting a bit of a dressing down from the director and my supervising history teacher about my teaching methods (less lecture, more activities so the kids are actively learning). It's just been...rough.

Part of it is just run-down batteries. I feel totally drained, and I keep feeling like I'm screwing everything up with the teaching. Some of my classes frustrate me, some of them I don't feel like I'm doing anything effective, and I'm just worried that I'm failing in my responsibilities as a teacher.

I basically need to spend the entire weekend reevaluating everything I understand about teaching and learning. Part of my problem, of course, is that I keep trying to teach them the same way that I learn information, and that just doesn't work. The other is that I really don't have any formal training in education. I'm having to pick it up as I go along.

I still think I can be a successful teacher, it's just going to be more challenging than I thought it would. I can't just lecture and make them read the book; I can't just sit up there and hope they soak up the information from listening to me cover the material over and over. It's going to take something different, and that's going to require creativity of a sort I'm not used to.


Song of the Moment: Led Zeppelin, "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp"

Monday, November 07, 2005

Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic, Volume 1

If the Volume 1 in the title of this album is indicative of future installments, I will be a very happy camper indeed. Jackson Browne mixes a little of the obvious with a little of the obscure to create a magnificent live recording.

All of the songs are either Browne alone on an acoustic guitar or on a piano. Browne is in fine voice throughout, his mellow vocals as fine as you could ask for. The stories he tells about songs and in between songs are hit and miss, though, sometimes providing interesting details into a song's history and sometimes just seeming irrelevant (honestly, do we really need to hear about his efforts to collect all the different translations of "Take it Easy"? Not really). Perhaps the most amusing anecdote is the one about an audience member asking him to play "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," a song he really had nothing to do with (but write one song that the Eagles make their own, and someone assumes you're connected to all of their tunes, I guess). The intros and stories are interesting to hear, but not something you really need to hear every single time. Thankfully, the album is sequenced in a way that allows you to skip the between-song chatter and jump right to the beginning of the songs themselves.

There's lots to love here. The song selection is, as mentioned, excellent: there are plenty of familiar fan favorites ("The Pretender," "Barricade of Heaven," "Take it Easy," "These Days") and some less familiar tunes (the never-before-released "Too Many Angels," "The Birds of St. Marks," and "For a Dancer" spring to mind) that are still just as good as the Browne tunes you'd hear on the radio. Browne makes each song engaging and worthwhile, and there's enough variation to keep the proceedings interesting.

My favorite part of the CD is "Take it Easy." I've wanted to hear Browne do the tune for years, since I've only ever heard the Eagles play it. Hearing him play it, you can tell it's a tune he wrote, something I'd never really picked up from listening to the Eagles' version. There's a hint of melancholy running through the song, just as with most Browne songs, and it gives the song a very interesting twist.

Ultimately, this is a fantastic set for anyone who loves Browne's work. It's probably not the best place to be introduced to his body of work, but for anyone already familiar with Browne, it's a great collection with more depth than your typical best of or live set.


Song of the Moment: Jackson Browne, "The Pretender (Live)"

"Like A Blister In The Sun"

Spent my Sunday helping out with Wendy's set building up at the high school. We made some good headway, but the day was not without its casualties.

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Yeah, word of advice: if you strip the head of a screw and decide to try to remove said screw--which has been under considerable strain and friction, mind you--don't try to remove the screw with your bare hands. For the love of God, don't try to remove it with your bare hands. I'm not going to be able to play the guitar for days, which oddly enough is the part about the whole experience that annoys me most.

Anyway, off for bed. Have to wake up in a few hours and head into work, even though the students are off. I tell ya, I miss being a student and getting the holidays off.


Song of the Moment: Jackson Browne, "Take it Easy (Live)"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

"A NIght At The Opera"

Spent a good part of the weekend attending plays. Friday night, Wendy, Tim, and I went to DC to see a friend of ours from the church choir in The Mikado, a Gilbert & Sullivan opera that was pretty damn impressive. Musically, you really couldn't beat it; our one complaint was that the director decided to "augment" the original script with some jokes about current US politics. As a result, several moments were like a musical version of Jay Leno. The real problem was that the contemporary jokes didn't gel well with the stuff Gilbert and Sullivan wrote, so they fell kinda flat. Honestly, it wasn't necessary to bring those in. But overall, the play was quite entertaining, especially since it only cost us ten bucks apiece (which is about what you'd pay for a movie anymore, so it was a pretty good deal).

We almost didn't get to see the play, though. When I went online to look up directions to the place, I used the address from a little e-flyer that Felicity (the friend we were there to see) sent me. Unfortunately, the address on there was for an office the group putting on the show had, so we were on the wrong side of the city. What's more, I paid $15 for parking at this wrong location. Luckily, we ran into some good fortune: a girl who worked in the office next door to where we went looked up the correct address for us, and the guys in the parking garage refunded us our total fee. We ended up missing the first 20 minutes or so of the play, but we were still able to follow what was happening.

Saturday afternoon, I wandered around DC (again) with Michelle and a couple of her friends. We mostly went up there to visit the Corcoran Museum to see the big Andy Warhol exhibit they had going. My string of bizarrely good luck held true: we got in for free because it was family weekend. We ended up making a small donation anyway, though, just for the sake of it. The exhibit was interesting, though I'm still not entirely convinced that I really care much for Warhol's work. I think he was mostly just a bullshit artist, pulling different stunts and trying different weird things to see how long it would be before someone just said, "Okay, enough is enough, that's just absurd," and no one ever got around to calling him on it. I won't deny his impact on art or popular culture, because to do so would be rather stupid, but I don't necessarily care for most of his stuff and I don't really fully understand most of it. If taking a couple of Polaroids of knives sitting on a white countertop is art, then let me go buy film for my old Polaroid camera right now.

Saturday night, Wen, Tim, and I went to see a local high school perform a play called Urinetown. We ended up getting into this show for free because of some pass thing Wendy has and because no one stops you when you act like you have every right to be where you are. The show sold out as we were standing in line to get tickets, so instead of leaving with everyone else in line, we marched up, Wendy showed the usher at the door her pass, and we walked right in unhindered. The show itself was interesting for several reasons: the set design and execution was spectacular, the chroreography was top-notch, and the play itself was fairly original and had a couple of nice twists (like the hero dying and the good guys losing in the end, but as the narrator commented a couple of times, "this isn't a nice show"). It was billed as something very edgy, but having seen it, I don't know that it was particularly provacative. Sure, it had a bit of language and some sexually suggestive lines, but the songs were pretty standard musical fare and the play itself was pretty straight forward. Entertaining, most assuredly, but not without flaws (the singers, while good, weren't particularly strong).

Sunday's itenerary is pretty full. We're going to church in the morning and then heading directly to Wendy's school to build on the set. At some point, we'll come back to the apartment and I'll hopefully wash the rest of my laundry and call my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday.

So yeah, full weekend. Monday is a teacher workday at school, so I'll be doing a few parent-teacher conferences and getting my grades figured out (and a lot of other administrative paperwork-type things). Tuesday is some sort of workshop/conference thing that I really don't want to attend, but I don't really have a choice.


Song of the Moment: Blue Mountain, "Generic America"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Six-String Belief"

The school's found someone to help me teach the music class on Thursday afternoons. I'm supposed to call the guy this afternoon before I leave work and arrange to have him come by tomorrow and join us.

Part of me will be glad of the help. I mean, I know how to play the guitar fairly well, but my technical mastery of the instrument is far from perfect. My vocabulary for describing what to do is not totally adequate. So having an extra person who probably has a different understanding of how the guitar works is good.

Really, when you get right down to it, my understanding of the guitar is much like my understanding of the English language and grammar and my understanding of art and drawing. I do these things intuitively, as a result of repetition and an instinctive understanding that I need to draw this line to achieve the desired effect, or use that phrase to express what I'm looking for, or put the words in this order for them to make sense. I understand how things ought to be, ought to look, or ought to sound, but I'll be damned if I can explain the why of it.

Which is rather ironic, when I think about it, because I've always thought the most important question to ask about anything was "why." I always want to know why. It's the reason I've never understood math: they could tell me that using this formula or equation would give me the right answer, but they could never tell me why that worked.

Anyway, the whole point is that maybe this guy will approach the guitar in a very different manner, perhaps one which is more methodical and less...well, loose, I guess. And extra help can't hurt, really. There are four or five kids in there already, and it's tough for me to address each one individually, especially since a couple of them are going to be playing different instruments (drums, keyboards, etc.). Guess we'll see how it goes after tomorrow.


Song of the Moment: Placebo, "Pure Morning"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

"Baby You Can Drive My Car"

So I spent most of my weekend trying to fix my car. This was not how I'd originally planned to spend my weekend, but car repairs are the sort of thing that just pop up whenever they want to, regardless of your prior plans. They're like pop quizes or your in-laws, really.

See, I went to a party with Michelle Friday night, and after dropping her off, the battery light in my car came on. This was pretty disconcerting, I have to tell you, but at least it waited until after I'd driven to Fredericksburg and back to do this. Anyway, I got up sometime around noon Saturday (hey, I was out until around 5.00 am, I felt I deserved at least a few hours of sleep) and took my car to the local GMC dealer, explaining what had happened and asking for assistance. Sadly, the guy said they were all booked up, and I should try the Chevy place up the street (they're all GM vehicles, anyway, so it really doesn't matter one way or the other). Unfortunately for me, the Chevy place was already closed by the time I got up there.

"No problem," I say to myself, "I'll just find the nearest Autozone and have them test the battery. If that's the problem, I'm sure we can get it fixed easily."

Well, after searching around, I discovered the nearest Autozone was clear over in Manassas, about 20 miles away. Undaunted, I drove to Manassas. I actually made it as far as the parking lot of the place before the car gave out, which would be the last bit of good luck I'd have this weekend.

The folks at Autozone tested my battery and told me it was deader than a doornail and stood no chance of resurrection, so I purchased a new one, they popped it in, and I drove off, thinking I'd defeated my problem with aplomb.

Oh, how naive I was.

See, I noticed as I was getting ready to leave that the battery light was still on, so I went back in to mention this. "Oh, no problem," said the woman who'd replaced my battery, "the system just takes awhile to reset sometimes, that's all." So off I go, traipsing around Fairfax to run a couple of errands and go help Wendy with her students' one acts again (as I'd done before Friday night's party). My car made it back to the apartment afterwards, but just barely. The battery, despite being brand new, was not holding a charge. "Crap," I think to myself, "this is almost exactly like when the alternator went out in the Sunfire a few years ago."

So I decide this morning to head to Autozone again to see about getting a new alternator. Tim agrees to follow me out there in case I need a jump. We get about five miles down the road and the car dies. So Tim pulls up beside me and gives me a jump (after some annoying rearranging...I swear to high holy Heaven, it was so much more difficult getting the cars in position to jump than it should have been. I won't even recount the problems I had with car keys and the removing said keys from the ignition. Be content, gentle reader, in the knowledge that many curse words were cursed, many oaths were sworn to hunt down whatever genius decided cars ought to be more electronic than mechanical, and my keys ultimately stayed in the dead car in the lonely parking lot while Tim and I continued on our quest for an alternator). Sadly, jumping the car proved fruitless, as the car would die as soon as we took off the jumper cables. "Let's just go on to Autozone, grab the alternator, and come back and put it in. It can't be that hard, right?" I say to Tim. "Yeah, we can do that," Tim says, and off we go to Manassas, none the wiser of just what asses we were about to make of ourselves.

A trip to Manasssas and $220 later, we head back to my car, new alternator in hand. We know we need to loosen the tensor arm so we can slip the belt off the old alternator and unbolt it and install the new one.

We couldn't loosen the belt. We couldn't figure out how to get the tensor arm to move, so we sat there, fiddling with crap that we didn't really understand, until Tim hit upon the brilliant idea of going and getting his dad.

"This thing has proven we are not true men, Tim," I said, my head bowed in defeat.

"Yeah," he agreed, "there's clearly a gap in our knowledge base" (okay, that's not how he said it, but that was the gist. Go with the narrative flow here, okay?)?

Anyway, it's getting on near dark by this point, and Tim goes off to get his dad while I stay with the car. Tim and his father finally return about an hour and a half or so after he left, and it's pitch dark by this point. Tim's father breaks out a prybar and goes after the tensor arm, finally shifting it and getting the damn belt off the alternator. It took less than thirty minutes to unbolt the old alternator and bolt on the new one after that, and all told about one hour of actual work was all it took to get the new alternator in place, the jumper cables attached, the car juiced back up, and my car to be running the way it's supposed to.

Yes, today my masculinity was put to the test. I failed. Miserably.

I hope they don't revoke my penis.


Song of the Moment: Led Zeppelin, "Trampled Under Foot"

Friday, October 28, 2005

"I've Got A Couple Of Chords And A Lyrical Stance"

I am so ready to just throttle a couple of my students who think that arguing with everything just for the sake of arguing with everything is okay. I'm about to lose what little temper I have, because it's the same students and the same battles every single day, several times a day.

What really irks me is a particular student who only wants to accept the rights and privileges of being 17 without any of the corresponding responsibility. He only plays the "I'm an adult" card when it benefits him, not when he has to take responsibility for his actions or decisions. It's all I can do to just reach over and smack the kid upside the head.

The rest of the day is given over to a Halloween party. Starting with lunch, we're just giving over the day to games, food, and pumpkin carving. Should be an interesting afternoon.


Song of the Moment: Blue Mountain, "Bloody 98"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Morning Jacket - Z

I've said I try not to make it a habit of buying albums by bands I've never listened to. I've mentioned how it's dangerous and doesn't often yield positive results. Yet I persist in buying albums randomly through recommendations by trusted reviewers or just hearing them compared to bands I really like.

So when I heard that My Morning Jacket was something of a cross between Wilco and the Flaming Lips, I felt they deserved my attention. Damn, am I glad I took a chance on these guys.

Z is simply one of the best albums I've listened to in quite awhile, and I've listened to some damn good albums in the past year. It's a brilliant mix of Americana, psychadelia, jangly guitars, aching vocals, and Beach Boys harmonies. The band melds genres in much the same way the Flaming Lips do; the best way to describe the band, in fact, is as a more radio-friendly version of the Lips. The easiest parallel between the two bands is in the vocals: both bands feature Neil Young-ish vocalists who croon semi-cryptic lyrics about love, loss, and zoos.

Musically, the album follows plenty of interesting detours, chasing after whatever whimsical muse caught the band's fancy. "Lay Low" is a fantastic, thumping song that lifts you up on its beautiful synth and guitar figures and carries you into the powerful jam that doubles the length of the song with spidery guitar lines. "Wordless Chorus" has just that: a chorus of soaring "Ahhh"s in the refrain that sets the tone and mood of the rest of the album. This is a record full of somber yet positive music, full of instruments that meander and twine around one another, creating layers of sound and a sonic palette that's exceptionally satisfying. "Off the Record" is a reggae-tinged rave-up, a jouyous and raucous four minutes that have you tapping your toes and humming along whether you want to or not.

This is a very cohesive album, a record that feels whole and complete in and of itself. It successfully synthesizes different sounds and styles into a single, unified direction. There's a sense of purpose to this music, and it ties everything together regardless of how odd or unusual the musical turns may be. I highly recommend this album to everyone. You owe it to yourself to hear this music.


Song of the Moment: My Morning Jacket, "Lay Low"

Friday, October 21, 2005

Minus 5 - At The Organ

It's really hard not to wish At the Organ, an EP by the Minus 5, was longer. Much longer. Like a full-length LP. Sadly, this is not the case, but the seven songs on the CD are fantastic.

Two of the songs are alternate versions of tracks off of the Minus 5's fantastic Down with Wilco release: "The Days of Wine and Booze" and "The Town that Lost its Groove Supply." Everything else is unique to this disc, and it's a pity that the band couldn't give you a few more tracks and make a full album out of it.

That complaint aside, what we do have is uniformly excellent. "Lyrical Stance" is a punky romp, deceptively simple and more fun than it has any right to be. "Hotel Senator" and "Formerly Hail Centurion" make absolutely no sense, but are fun and clever nonetheless. "Film of the Movie" is a wonderful pot shot at Hollywood's tendency to remake every single damn movie ever released. The strangest track is the closer, "One More Bottle to Go," and of which the liner notes ask "Is it even music?" The answer is a definite "yes," and very entertaining music at that. The Minus 5 pull their usual trick: an eclectic mix of Beach Boys harmonies and modular music, chiming guitars, oddball instruments (though oddly enough, there are no organs evident on the recording, despite the title), and surreal lyrics.

Ultimately, if you like the Minus 5, this will be a no-brainer for you. If you're not sure about the band, this probably isn't the place to start.


Song of the Moment: Minus 5, "Formerly Hail Centurion"

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Steady Crushing Hand"

The Music Club at school met this afternoon. I only had two kids there--a brother and a sister--but they were making good effort, so I didn't mind that so few showed up. I knew one other kid wouldn't be there, and the other two (another who wants to learn guitar and our drummer) sorta just forgot, I guess. Overall, I have a good feeling about the whole situation, really. I think that if the kids actually keep trying and practicing everyday, they'll be decent pretty quick.

As anyone who has visited the Dim Bulb site lately probably knows, I've been struggling with creativity lately. I just...don't feel all that inspired. I hate the notion of taking a break/hiatus, because I know how I am: if I take a break, I end up just not going back to it. It's what happened with running, and God knows when the last time I was able to go on a long jog was.

The best I can do, then, is just push through, try to get back to where I'm happy with what I'm doing. I have a couple of ideas for what to do next with the comic, but I just wish I was feeling the groove better.

Talked with my niece (well, cousin's daughter, but "niece" isn't as unwieldy) this afternoon. Had a good conversation, considering the fact that she's been sick and she's only three. She actually willing took the phone and chatted this afternoon, which is a very positive move in the direction we've been wanting.

Conversations with my mother have not gone as well. Not that she's been chewing me out about things; she and dad apparently had a conversation about money yesterday evening. Y'know, one of those prelude to divorce conversations that have to occur so they can divy everything up and figure out how much she gets and how much he gets. My father, weird as it sounds, apparently thinks that since he's done all the work, he owes mom no money. Y'know, totally ignoring her raising three children, shuttling them all over the place, doing the laundry and the dishes, cooking meals, shopping for clothes and food and everything in between, planning and organizing everything from vacations to the monthly father wasn't even aware that we had a pharmacy bill every month. He's completely oblivious, essentially, to what mom's spent the past nearly 30 years doing for him. He just doesn't get it. It's pretty upsetting, to say the least. Mom was not looking forward to the conversation when I talked with her early yesterday afternoon. Of course, a big part of it simply depends on which version of my father showed up. If it was my father the way he's been acting the past few months, then she probably had no chance. But if it was my real father, she might've been able to talk some sense into the man. Either way, I feel bad that she even had to go through this whole thing.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Kicking Television (Live)"

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Staring At The Sun"

Spent the afternoon at the Rennaisance Festival with Wen, Tim, and a girl from the church choir, Felicity. We had a good time, really: watched a "German" juggler do some pretty cool stuff, saw a guy doing some glass blowing, and wandered around checking out the nifty shops that sold everything from fairy wings to swords to corsets. At some point, Wendy and Tim disappeared, and Felicity and I stood in line for free beer quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail and giggling.

So it was a fun afternoon, though I've got a bit of a post-beer headache (not that I drank enough to get a hangover, mind you; it's just that if I have a couple of beers, I tend to get a headache. It's one of those things). Also managed to buy gas in Manassas for $2.49 this evening, which is about as cheap as it's been since I moved to the area three months ago (God, it's already been three months?). Then I came home and Wendy made me an excellent omlette.

I talked with dad for awhile this evening, and we're setting up tentative plans for him to come visit at the beginning of December. I also need to get my plane ticket for my trip home for Christmas, which is going to put a major dent in my funds. Speaking of, I think I might have accidentally overdrafted on my Arvest account this week. I didn't mean to, I just forgot that I'd spent most of what was in there on car stuff on Monday. So I should probably call the bank tomorrow and find out, then have them transfer some money from savings to checking so I don't have anymore problems.

In other news, I turned on the comment word verification thing in an effort to combat spam. Also turned it on over at the Dim Bulb rantspace blog. I want folks to be able to comment on stuff, even anonymously, but the spam was annoying the hell out of me. This should fix that. If not, I'll hunt down the spammers and destroy them using my mind powers.


Song of the Moment: Charlie Sexton, "Gospel"

Saturday, October 15, 2005

"Welcome To The Stage Of History"

Spent most of the day helping Wen with Wizard of Oz rehersal. She's already got the first act blocked, and the kids did pretty well considering it's still early in the process. I'm really looking forward to seeing what she's able to do with it as things progress.

After rehersals, Wen and I went to Borders for their Educator Appreciation weekend. Anyone who is an educator or retired educator can get 25% off any purchase all weekend. Granted, I didn't have any way to prove my current employment (having left my paycheck stub at home and not having any sort of ID or badge from Accotink, since apparently they don't go in for for that sort of stuff), but I bought a couple of books that could be useful anyway: the complete works of Edgar A. Poe and Joseph Campbell's The Hero with 1000 Faces. Wen managed to grab about $100 worth of plays, monologues, and the like, and that was with her discount.

One thing I noticed while we were at Borders, though. It's something that'd nagged at the back of my mind since my days at Ozarks, but it was really put in sharp focus today. While browsing through the history books in an effort to find something for my classes, I wandered through both the Eurpoean and American history sections. I know I'm not teaching any classes on world history or anything right now, but I still like to dig through the books and see if there's anything interesting (saw a couple of British history books I was sorely tempted to pick up, but didn't). While I perused the American history books, I noticed a couple of trends: first, that most American history books deal with wars. We're fascinated with wars, whether the Revolution, the Civil War, or especially World War II. Second, we glorify war in a rather frightening manner. The words "glory" and "honor" popped up in entirely too many titles. We almost revel in the gory details, nearly deify battle and death and destruction. It's disturbing, really, the point to which we glorify war and the extent to which we obsess over it in our history. Yes, much of our history has been shaped by war. That's undeniable, in the same way that the English language's diversity and flexibility was undeniably shaped by Britian's conquest by various peoples and groups over the centuries. But to idolize warfare the way we's unhealthy and creates a distorted impression of what war is actually like. American historians (especially such popular "historians" as Stephen "never had an original thought or book" Amrbose) seem to think that all the guys fighting for America over the years have been these idealogues who were always fighting for Truth, Justice, Freedom, and The American Way.

And while I'm not discounting the possibility that some people of that nature did fight for America--it would be foolish to deny their existence--presenting this as the general character of our armies as a whole is ridiculous. The Founding Fathers may have been attempting to create a better life and a country where all citizens could pursue life, liberty, and happiness as they saw fit, but they were also greedy bastards who didn't want to pay Britain's steep taxes (even though those taxes were levied to pay for a war that had been fought to protect the colonists). Folks in the Civil War may have been fighting over whether or not a state ought to have more power than the federal government and vice-versa, or even over the issue of the morality of slavery, but they were also fighting because they just couldn't get along and were spoiling for a good fight.

Part of the problem, I think, is that America has viewed war as the path we took to becoming the world's only remaining superpower. And this is, to a great extent, true: our involvement in the two World Wars established us as the new Britain, the new Rome, and we took to the role after the Second World War as though it were our birthright. Warfare was our path to greatness. Once there, we assumed the only way to remain at the top of the heap was through the occasional flexing of the military muscle (okay, so maybe "occasional" is a bit facetious), as all major world powers from Athens on down had seen fit to do.

Ultimately, this is why I really do not like American history: the focus is so heavily on warfare, and that focus is always in terms which are much too positive. "Look at war," American history books say. "Look at America in war. We are glorious, we are mighty, we are here because we fought bravely, and our bravery makes us morally good." We do not fight because we are right, we are right because we fight. This seems to be the dominant view of America's involvement in war. It's unsettling, really, but this mentality has existed for as long as America has. The notion that we are a nation destined (destined to be great, destined to grow--i.e., "Manifest Destiny"--destined to rule) is one intimately tied up the creation and evolution of our country and our ideals. All men may be created equal, but not all countries are created equal. Some are, apparently, better than others. We sought "a more perfect union," and we believe we have found it here. In many ways, America is still stuck in the old Enlightenment ideal of continual progress: we are always improving things, always moving forward, getting closer to some idealized utopia that can be attained if we just keep going.

But you can't progress indefinitely. History moves in cycles, not straight lines. The wheel turns, things reach a peak and then decline. It's natural for this to happen. We can't possibly remain the biggest kid on the block. Babylon couldn't do it. Athens couldn't manage it. Rome fell. Spain rose and slid into weakness. Britain had an empire upon which the sun never set, and now they are essentially limited to a few tiny islands off the coast of Europe. It's only been fifty or sixty years since they were still an empire. The downswing can come quickly.

America must learn the lessons of history. War is not a glorious thing. It's brutal, it's vicious. It is sometimes necessary, but it is not something to be celebrated or rejoiced in. To slip into cliches for a moment, those who live by the sword do eventually die by it, and those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Unless we as a country and as a society understand that we cannot continue behaving the way we do, one day we'll wake up to find the Vandals and the Visigoths at our doorstep, the Empire revolting all over, and the people incapable of doing anything but standing by and watching.


Song of the Moment: My Morning Jacket, "Wordless Chorus"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"You Say You Want A Revolution"

So last night was, thankfully, my last night at Huntington. I'd say I'm sad to see the back of the place, but I'd be lying. I really was starting to dislike the very nature of the job, and I'm glad I got out before my feelings started to negatively impact my performance. That wouldn't have been fair to anyone, so this was really for the best.

Additionally, this actually gives me time to plan my classes. I came up with some good ideas for lessons in my English class, stuff that applies to their interests, stuff that applies to what they need to learn for their standardized tests, and stuff that won't be like pulling teeth.

Got a paycheck from the Vienna job today, which was very welcome. I'm always in favor of someone sending me money. Large wads of cash are one of the quickest ways wallet.

What, they can't all be gut-busters.


Song of the Moment: Eric Clapton, "Love Comes to Everyone"

Monday, October 10, 2005

"If Not For You, My Sky Would Fall"

So I lost all the kids I'm tutoring now through Vienna. The first kid's mother decided he didn't really need the tutoring after all back a couple of weeks ago, and the mother of the other two kids decided today that she didn't think they needed it, either (or that the one who did need help didn't need subject tutoring, just a little organizational help every day).

Part of me really doesn't mind, but another part of me is kinda miffed. First, because I'm now not getting paid to tutor those kids. But that's not as much an issue, since I've already emailed them about tutoring someone else who needs writing help (and that will be a major endeavour akin to what I just spent seven years doing at Ozarks and OU).

The bigger issue is that I feel like I've just been discarded after my usefulness ended. I mean, I got those kids organized. I introduced a half dozen strategies for each of them, strategies which they are using to keep organized. I know part of me should feel good, 'cause I did my job correctly: they're organized now, they're staying on top of everything, etc. But a bigger part of me feels like they just took what they needed from me and then did a runner. Feels a bit exploitative, really.

Anyway, I'm not too worried about it. Just with the few hours I did tutor those three kids, I made over $350. The way I figure it, if I can get even two or three hours a week with this stuff, I've got gas paid for, easy.


Song of the Moment: Barenaked Ladies, "Light Up My Room"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Lefty He Can't Sing The Blues"

Saw the Wallace and Gromit movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit this evening with Tim and Wen. Funny, funny movie. You have to love a movie that keeps throwing deadpan puns at you the whole time. The fact that it included stuff like a book on monsters written by Claude Viciously and featured a vegetable shop called Harvey's (with a giant carrot for the sign) is just classic. There's also a wonderful Snoopy reference (as the World War I Flying Ace at that) that had me giggling. Tim decided it was definitely a must-buy when it comes to DVD, and I have to say I agree.

It's funny: I've only been awake about 12 hours, and I'm already tired. Doesn't seem like it should be time for that yet.


Song of the Moment: Pink Floyd, "Run Like Hell"

Bob Dylan - Slow Train Coming

When I first started really listening to Dylan records, I told myself I would avoid his trio of evangelical Christian releases; not because I disliked the messge, but simply because everything I'd read or heard seemed to imply that they just weren't very good albums. I'd heard about everything from lackluster tunes to bland lyrics, bored vocals, and repetative themes. I vowed I wouldn't get so caught up in Dylan as to actually think, "well, every other Dylan album I've heard had at least a few good songs on it, so these must as well. There can't be any harm in getting them, right?"

Well, I succumbed to temptation. I picked up Slow Train Coming, mostly because I'd run out of essential Dylan albums (and even the less-than-essential: I mean, did I really need Planet Waves or New Morning? Empire Burlesque? Street Legal?) to collect, and I broke down. The flesh and the will were both weak.

Turns out the record isn't the horrible train wreck (sorry, couldn't help myself) that I'd been told it was. Slow Train Coming has its problems, but it's far from one of the worst records he's ever cut (that dubious honor probably goes to Self Portrait, another record I've been tempted many times to pick up).

Let's start with the strengths. Musically, this record is a continuation of the sound of its predecessor, Street Legal. This isn't an entirely bad thing; Street Legal had a good sound to it, it's just that the batch of songs Dylan came up with weren't his strongest (though "Changing of the Guard," "Journey Through Dark Heat (Where are you tonight?)," and "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" are among the best of middle period Dylan), but the record was fun. Slow Train Coming has the added advantage of having a young Mark "Dire Straits" Knoplfer on guitar, and Knopfler's guitar fills do wonders to keep the songs (which tend to run on the long side: there's nary a song that comes in under the four-minute mark) interesting. The rest of the backing band is strong and versatile, cranking out slightly Gospel- and raggae-tinged tunes to back Dylan. The music feels appropriate for the subject matter, really.

In terms of the actual lyrics, they aren't the best that Dylan's ever penned. Granted, even a mediocre Dylan song would be the crown jewel of many recording artists' catalogues, but here, it just comes across as faintly disappointing at times. Some of the songs are pretty good, though. "Gotta Serve Somebody" is one of Dylan's slyest and wittiest songs in ages. "Precious Angel" occasionally dips its toes too deeply into dogma and even sexism (as Dylan songs sometimes do), but is fairly strong throughout and shows a sort of internal consistency. "I Believe in You" is a strong statement of faith, though Dylan actually manages to keep the object of his faith ambiguous until almost the end (is he singing to Jesus? To a woman? You don't know until he ruins the spell at the end by coming right out and telling you). The lyrics, on the whole, are fairly strong--if not exactly outstanding--and stand up pretty well compared to what they could have been. Dylan does occasionally stray too deep into reciting dogmatic phrases and lines, but he can be forgiven for that sin when you keep in mind that all of us have our off days.

The place where the album really falls flat is in the vocal delivery. Dylan totally phoned in his vocals for this record. For an album that's all about newfound faith, zeal, and fervor, his voice is flat, bland, and almost bored-sounding. There's no energy or emotion, and the times when he does attempt to inject a little spirit into the proceedings actually come across as strained and forced rather than emotional or powerful. At least on Street Legal he seemed to have some conviction in his voice; here, he's almost lifeless, and it nearly ruins some of the better songs.

The sole exception to this problem is "Gotta Serve Somebody," which is sung with power and conviction and true feeling. Dylan lays it all out on the line, opens up the album with an exceptionally strong track that leaves you hoping the rest of the album will follow suit. It sets you up for an entire album of that sort, and makes you think that if he can craft tunes of this power and authenticity, then he can convert to whatever faith he wants to. Sadly, the rest of the album does not make good on the promise of that opening track. There are small highlights, and the album isn't necessarily bad, per se, it's just that you start thinking of what a lyrical mastermind like Dylan really could have done with this subject matter if he'd been at the top of his game. Ultimately, it's hard not to see this album in terms of what it might have been instead of what it is, which is a fairly decent if not entirely remarkable middle-period Dylan record.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Slow Train"

Friday, October 07, 2005

"How Many Times Will The Teeth Bite The Tongue?"

God, I'm glad this week is over. Talk about long. Tutoring every night except Monday on top of teaching more classes at Accotink (today I had to sub in the Spanish class for one period since the teacher was out...actually knew more Spanish than the kids, which was surprising since I haven't had Spanish since 1996 at the most recent). It's not that I mind the extra responsibility there, just that I'd appreciate having some time to prepare for the classes. I still don't have a planning period, and I can't really use the afterschool hour yet because I'm still having to get back to Fairfax right after Accotink lets out to tutor at Huntington.

But that's going to change after Tuesday. Yes, only two more days of tutoring at Huntington, and I'm done! Believe me, that is something of a Godsend, 'cause that job was about to wear me out. I've noticed that my patience with both the kids at Accotink and the kids at Huntington isn't as much as it ought to be. Thing is, I can pretty much handle the kids at Accotink until a given time...around 4.00, usually, and then I've reached my limit. Only problem is that I then have to go deal with other kids at Huntington, where my disciplining options are fewer and less effective. So I never get any downtime, and that means I'm harder on the students at Accotink and Huntington than they probably deserve. This strikes me as a greater problem than my lack of sleep (which I'm used to) or even my lack of planning time (I can always just make it up as I go along...for now).

Got to talk to my niece Bailey this evening. It took a few minutes to convince her to get on the phone and chat with me, but she actually talked to me this time (a great improvement over previous attempts), and we think what we're going to do from now on is have her and Aunt Donna call me instead of the other way around. We think part of the problem is that I keep surprising her and suddenly reminding her that I'm not around, and she gets mad at me for it.

Of course, when I did talk to her, she had to ask me what I was doing right that second, what my mom was doing, what my dad was doing...she has to go through every member of the family each time. It's her ritual, her way of keeping track and making sure no other members of the family have suddenly disappeared. Probably her way of coping with/understanding her parents' split. She's also just used to everyone being around, to all of us showing up at the same time for gatherings and all. I don't think she quite understands what it means when we tell her I've moved across the country, though she did say she was happy she'd get to see me at Christmas. I'll have to find her a good Christmas present, I guess.

Found volume six of Trigun Maximum this afternoon, which made me happy. My only complaint about manga graphic novels is the length of time I have to wait between volumes: it's been months since volume 5 came out. Shaman King is much worse about this than Shaman King, though: volume 7 came out in August, and volume 8 won't come out until January of 2006. This annoys me. I'm not a particularly patient person, I'm afraid, which is probably why I don't follow more manga and anime series than I do (though I notice volume 5 of Samurai Champloo is out now, so I'll probably have to grab that at some point...that series ought to be completed by January, if what I've read is correct).

We've decided to start a music club at Accotink. I'm apparently going to be in charge of it. We've got about four or five people already interested in it and another teacher interested in helping me, which is good. Assistance is always a plus. What we hope to do is teach those who want to learn, say, the guitar, how to actually play. Once everyone has the basics (which may take awhile), we're going to try to perform. Probably small stuff at first: school functions, things like that.

Tomorrow will be the first day I get to sleep in I've had since I started working at Accotink nearly a month ago (wow, already almost a month). I plan to take full advantage of this fact, and then maybe get around to discussing what works and doesn't work with Dylan's evangelical Christian album Slow Train Coming. Surprisingly, it's not as bad as I feared.


Song of the Moment: Uncle Tupelo, "Atomic Power"

Monday, October 03, 2005

"From Across The Canyon A Guitar Plays"

Long weekend. Much accomplished, but much left undone.

For example: I now have Virginia license plates (which are good until October 2007), thus absolving me of any potential problems with expired plates. However, I was unable to get a Virginia driver's license because I did not have my passport or birth certificate. Apparently, my old Oklahoma driver's license wasn't enough to convince them I was me. Didn't get a chance to see Serenity, which I think makes me a really bad Firefly fan. However, I did help Wendy Saturday afternoon with various stuff at her first Oz rehersal. She introduced me to her stage managers, whom she told I would be around to help with various stuff and act as a surrogate Ms. Flora (or, as one stage director so suscinctly put it, "He's Ms. Flora with a penis"). I didn't get my laundry done, though it's being washed at the moment.

The history teacher at Accotink is lobbying to have me become the official teacher for the 4th period US/VA History class. The class has responded well to me when I have been in charge, and she could really use the break. It's fine by me, but as I pointed out to her, I'm starting to take on an awful lot of responsibility for an assistant teacher. If they're going to have me teach classes as a full-fledged teacher, I ought to receive the benefits commiserate with that: things like higher pay and a planning period. We'll have to see how that works out.

I chatted with my aunt this afternoon for about an hour about various things, including my parents' current problems. Though she's married to my father's brother, she's been very supportive of my mother, which I think annoys dad. He doesn't understand why his family has been there for my mother but not for him so much. I think part of it has to do with him closing himself off from everyone while she's actually gone to them for comfort and conversation. Of course, he might also just be behaving like a complete dick for the hell of it, but I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Making Some Noise"

Saturday, October 01, 2005

"In The Parking Lots, In The Headlights Of Cars"

So I was at the Seven Eleven earlier this evening getting something to drink, and I saw one of the other cars in the parking lot with a license plate which read "MENSA IQ." "Oh, a genius," I thought to myself, walking towards the entrance to the convenience store. Then the people who were in the car got out, and I noticed the girl who'd been driving was wearing a College Republicans t-shirt. "Oh, she's obviously borrowing the car," I thought to myself, "or else the license plate is a lie."

Speaking of license plates, I get to go to the DMV tomorrow morning bright and early to get a new license, plates, and all that jazz. The average wait time (according to the website, which doesn't list the location I was planning on going to for some reason) is something like half an hour, statistically speaking. Of course, as the old saying goes, nine out of ten statistics are made up (including that one), so who knows. I'm planning to be there for the long haul, though: I'm taking a book (Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1, which I've been re-reading just for the hell of it), music (assorted, along with my archaic discman of doom), and maybe the Gameboy ('cause I still haven't beat Megaman Battle Network 5, which I was playing before I even moved here. God, I've been slow). I've got everything I think I need: title, license, proof of residence (I hope), proof of my registering with the county for tax purposes, insurance card, and money. It's an expensive proposition, though it doesn't look as expensive as I originally thought. That's good, at least.

On the topic of money (see how these paragraphs are all flowing into one another? I only wish we could teach the students in the English classes how to do this), I got paid today at Accotink and Huntington (which is good, since my Arvest bank account was down to about a dollar and a half before my Huntington check appeared in it...that's cutting it awful close, I have to admit). The Accotink paycheck was fantastic: even though it was only for three weeks of work, it was nearly two thousand dollars. A full paycheck is going to be great.

The Huntington paycheck...wasn't so great. Either I worked fewer hours than I'd thought, or they're really gyping me, 'cause it barely topped $800. It's enough to pay my share of rent and all, but it's still annoying.

I took my paycheck from Accotink this afternoon and started a local bank account at Sun Trust. I set up both checking and savings, deposited $800 in each, ordered checks, a debit/ATM card, and a credit card (1.7% introductory APR, up to 8.99% after the introductory period, which is still pretty good, and since I plan to pay it off in full at the end of each month, it shouldn't be much of an issue). I also withdrew some cash so I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not the DMV would take temporary checks tomorrow.

Wendy, Tim, and I went to see Corpse Bride this evening. It wasn't too bad; the flick has an amazing sense of style and setting, like a cross between Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas (appropriately enough), and we loved the idea of having the living world in the drab, lifeless graytones and the underworld in brilliant and vibrant colors. It was a clever way to highlight the differences between the two settings. But what it had in style it totally lacked in character development and plot. The characters were all a little too one-dimensional, and the plot's twists were predictable and too few. Wendy and I had the plot twists figured out by about the second scene of the movie, which was rather disappointing. There was a lot of potential with the characters, and we wanted to see more of the actual relationship between Johnny Depp's character and either of the principle female characters. You never really got a feel for why he loved either girl, and since the whole story really hinged on his love for at least one of them at any given time, it really weakened the movie as a whole. It was basically your typical Tim Burton flick: long on style, falls short in the last quarter of the film. Burton seems more interested in world building than in the actual movie. We also thought the movie seemed...abrupt. There wasn't much buildup to things. The climax in particular could have used more build, more detail. It just sorta happened, and then...the movie was over. Boom, like that, to quote Mark Knopfler quoting Ray Kroc.

Tomorrow night, I think, I'll go see Serenity, since I couldn't convince Wen and Tim to go tonight. I needed other people around tonight, but I think I'll be up for a solo flick tomorrow. Besides, hey, it's Serenity, and they haven't actually seen Firefly, so they wouldn't be able to appreciate it as I could.


Song of the Moment: The Band, "Makes No Difference (Live)"