Monday, January 31, 2005

"Fogive Me My Tongue Doesn't Know What It's Doing"

Didn't get nearly enough sleep to be sitting at work for as long as I'll have to today. See, my boss is out of the office all day, so Ev and I have to basically cover everything all day 'cause we're the only two available to work. I'm working until 3.00, and then coming back again at 6.00 and working until 10.00. Then I'll collapse in a puddle of my own drool and twitch like gibbering howler monkey on speed.

This would all be easier to handle if I'd gotten more than three hours of sleep last night. Part of it wasn't entirely my fault--I just couldn't sleep last night. In an effort to make myself drowsy, and because I'm really getting into the book, I sat up reading The Ill-Made Mute. When I started reading that book at work yesterday, I was maybe a quarter of the way through it. Now I'm about 4/5 of the way through it, and it's a pretty damn long book.

It really took me awhile to get into the narrative of the book. The first hundred or so pages moved pretty slow, establishing the world and the main character...and then the author spent the next two hundred pages tearing all that apart and rebuilding it, only this time on an epic scale that's wild fun to read. She gave the main character, the titular mute, a personality and a point of view, something that had been missing over the first hundred or so pages. And once the character got out of the fortress/stronghold/tower/thing she'd been working in and out into the wilderness, the author's prose style really started to work for her. I'm actually interested in the story and the characters now, and curious to see where she takes it in the next two books (which I'll definitely be picking up now--originally, I'd been wary of getting the second and third books of the trilogy, but now I'm hooked and convinced they're worth reading).

Anyway, I'm having to play authority figure here at work this morning. Since my boss is out, I have to be all responsible and stuff. I guess I'm doing okay at it, but I always fear that I'm going to do something wrong and screw up things not only for me, but for everyone else.


Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "Buick City Complex"

Sunday, January 30, 2005

"You Were Made To Go Out And Get Her"

I am craving donuts. And not just any donuts--I am craving donuts from the Daylight Donut Shop in Shawnee, OK, the donut shop my family has frequented for almost a quarter of a century (we've been going there since we moved to Shawnee, which we did when I was a year old or so...almost 24 years ago, then, since I'm about to turn 25). We're practically members of the family that runs the place, and mom tends to help them run the place when they're really busy. They used to make us giant birthday donuts (huge donut of your choice--enough to feed the entire family and then some, plus a specialty donut of the birthday boy's choice in the center). They love us there, and we love them...and their donuts.

The worst part of the craving is that the only way for me to get donuts is to go to Shawnee very early one morning before work and grab some, and that is not really a feasible plan. Should've had dad bring me some when he came over yesterday.

In other news, I've already been awake for an hour, and it's not yet noon. I got up at a reasonable hour in the morning on a Sunday, when I'm not scheduled to work until 2.00 in the afternoon. I don't rightly know how this happened. I do know I'm feeling well-rested, which is a nice change of pace from my usual "so worn out I can barely stand" state of being. Next week, I'm hoping to make the "well-rested" feeling more ubiquitous. For that to be the norm rather than the exception...a man would give up a full cycle of life for that feeling. A grad student would, anyway.


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

"It's A Dirty Story Of A Dirty Man"

Well, the 1964 show was a blast. Dad and I both agreed that they were hitting on all cylinders.

The evening overall went quite well. Dad actually arrived in the mid-afternoon (about an hour or so before I was really ready...but as he said, it's not like he's mom. He doesn't care about the state of the apartment). We hit the mall to buy birthday presents for my grandfather, then out to eat dinner at the Olive Garden (delicious sin, thy name is chicken alfredo pizza). After dinner, we went to the concert (walked from the apartment, since 1964 was playing on campus and it was only a 15 or 20 minute walk, and we needed to work off dinner), and dad went home after the show. Really made for a great evening.

The evening really reminded me of two things; two things which I recall time and again, and yet they both seem remarkable and epiphany-esque each time: first, that spending time with my dad is always enjoyable, and second, that the Beatles made music that really transcends time.

My dad is, despite being an accountant, a really interesting individual. He's done a lot of strange things in his life, been a lot of amazing places, and learned a lot of important details and lessons. And he's always eager to share what he knows and what he thinks it will help me to know (sometimes this information is very useful, and sometimes, like the "family secret," it just leaves you laughing for ten minutes straight). The man genuinely wants to see me succeed and genuinely loves me for who and what I am, and that's a wonderful thing to me.

And the Beatles...I know I gush about music in general, especially classic rock, and specifically about Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I talk endlessly about how important their contributions to music and popular culture are for all of us, and just how much their music has changed my life and given it meaning. And a lot of that, I know, sounds like hyperbole...but so much of it isn't. You listen to the songs the Beatles made--joyous, energetic, full of life and love and heartbreak and emotion, so much that it's overflowing and brimming over and can't really be listen, and it speaks to something in all of us, regardless of our social or economic or religious or racial background. There's something universal in it, something primal that speaks to the hindbrain and reminds us of who and what we are. The Beatles' music is a celebration of life and everything in it, good and bad, lighthearted and somber. I mean, songs like "She Loves You" are so simple, so basic...look at the chorus: "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" repeated over and over. And folks ate it up. It's infectious. They sing it with such abandon. Dylan often manages to latch on to the same spark, delivering songs and music that speaks to us on a very personal level.

It's why I love music. The Beatles make it real for me, they make music seem like something that can matter, that can make a difference. When they sang "all you need is love," I believed them. I believed love could fix everything. When Dylan sang "the times they are a-changin'," I thought he aimed to change them right then and there, in the middle of that song. These guys took three minute songs and turned them into anthems, into declarations and statements and stories and epics and humanity, above all, humanity, and we should thank them with everything in our hearts and souls and minds that they shared their music.

Music is that important to me. And my father is the one who showed music to me. Do you understand that? Can you?


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "From Me To You"

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"Does The Morning Brightness Burn Your Eyes?"

It's 3.00 am, and I just got out of the shower. Kinda needed one, since I ended up going to hear my uncle play this past evening after all.

I called my aunt late in the afternoon to tell her I probably wasn't going to make it to the show, but she mentioned that it might possibly be the last Regular Joes show (which later proved to be not quite true), so I decided I'd come out and hear one or two sets. Well, after sitting through the first two sets, I figured I might as well stay for the third and final set, especially since my uncle said he'd play my favorite Regular Joes songs ("Restless" and my all-time favorite, "Babylon Last Night"). So I got in about half an hour ago, and now I no longer smell of cigarette smoke.

The show was good. My uncle was absolutely on fire tonight, and his leads were phenomenal. I'm glad I went. Hearing him solo on "Voodoo Cadillac Blues" and "Babylon Last Night" alone made the trip to Yukon worth it.

I know it seemed as though my other blog-type thing was dormant and nigh defunct, but I have in fact updated this week with the lyrics to another new song. I have plans of actually updating the thing with some regularity in the coming weeks and months, as I have a handful of decent songs to share and a short story or three in the works (a couple of which I actually quite like). So feel free to head on over there, check 'em out, and leave a comment or something.

Anyway, off for bed. Need a good night's sleep, 'cause tomorrow (or today, whatever) is 1964.


Song of the Moment: The Regular Joes, "Babylon Last Night"

Friday, January 28, 2005

"Give Me Peace On Earth"

I woke up this morning (refreshed and feeling better than I did yesterday) to snow. Lots of snow, for Oklahoma anyway. It's coming down pretty heavy out there, and doesn't appear to be letting up.

My first reaction was, "Oh, snow!" My second, much less enthused reaction was, "Oh, crap, I have to go to work in this." Walking and/or riding the bike in the snow is not really a whole lot of fun if you have to sit at work for four hours afterwards.

So I ended up riding the bike, which made the trip quicker but colder. Ah well, I survived.

The world outside the window is currently a uniform grey color. How long this will keep up--and whether it will turn to rain at some point during the day--remains to be seen.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)"

"Are You A Hypnotist??"

I was at Wal-Mart earlier this evening, picking up some sinus medicine (thinking maybe I could get my sinuses clear so I can actually breathe tomorrow), and as I'm walking towards the pharmacy section, this young lady (she couldn't have been more than 18) with piercings and such suddenly turned to me and asked, bold as you please, "Hi, how are you doing today?" She wasn't an employee or anything, just a random person, probably a high school student, probably trying to throw me off balance for a giggle. But, much to her surprise, I responded back in kind. I think there was a hint of admiration in her glance after that, and then she turned down a different aisle with her two friends, giggling, and I wandered off to find my medication.

Guess I still have a few surprises in me, even when I'm not feeling particularly well.

I'm starting to think I may not make it to hear my uncle play tomorrow night. As much as I want to hear him, I don't think sitting in a smokey bar with my current breathing problems and drainage issues is a particularly smart move, especially since I really want to be well enough to enjoy 1964 Saturday with dad. We'll just have to see how I feel tomorrow.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Yes It Is"

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Your Loveliness Has Wounded Me"

I've spent the better part of the past five and a half hours of this afternoon (basically ever since I got off work at 12.00) sleeping. I think it's helped some--I don't feel as bad, though I'm still stopped up and have the drainage and all that. I'll probably try to make it an early night tonight so I can get a full night's sleep on top of that and maybe catch up to where someone with a real sleep schedule ought to be.

My nap (if a period of sleep that rivals my usual nighttime sleep counts as a mere nap) was only interrupted twice--once when someone called wanting me to sign up for a credit card, and again half an hour later when Adam called to chat. Beyond that, it was snoozing bliss.

Well, I should go be active or something for a few hours so that I can actually go to sleep before midnight.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)"

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Let's Give A Wink To Those Girls Who Don't Feel Pretty"

Managed to have a pretty good afternoon. Got my car washed (it was in desperate need, too--two nasty storms' worth of grit and grime coated it, and with all the salt and sand and such they lay down on the streets in ice storms, I needed to wash the thing before that stuff started eating through the paint). Still have 3 1/2 hours of work left to face, and then I'm taking Ev to Wal-Mart to do some shopping. I'm just sorta hoping he's not wanting to spend a huge amount of time there, 'cause I'm starting to feel sick--stopped up, lots of drainage, and a slight sore throat. Whatever it is I'm coming down with (I started feeling it yesterday morning when I woke up, but it's been getting progressively worse since then), I hope it passes soon.

Also found out that Jess & Dom's podling will be a boy, which is pretty cool. A girl would have been likewise interesting and amusing, but such is life. I'm very happy for them, and they make me feel simultaneously old and young. Congrats, guys.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Thank You"

"Looks Like Morning In Your Eyes"

I can already tell it's going to be one of those days. You know the sort--things just keep conspiring to whisper in your ear, metaphorically speaking, that it really wasn't worth the effort dragging your tired body out of bed this morning. Yeah, one of those days.

Admittedly, the water did come back on at the apartment, but there's trouble at work. Our LAN has been taken offline for the time being, and all of our computers have been switched over to the university-wide network while they work on stuff with the Athletic Department network. Turns out we had a hacker or something come in and cause some trouble, so they're having to deal with all that. Means no one can access their files, which causes my boss no end of annoyance as well.

On top of that, since we can't access the Athletic Department LAN, we can't access the printers on our network. That means no printing. We might be able to use the local printer we have here in the Writing Center, but I don't know how we'll get access to it. This is a pain in the proverbial ass, of course.

Anyway, it's going to make work interesting in a not-at-all-fun sort of way for the next couple of days. The weekend can't come soon enough.


Song of the Moment: Norah Jones, "Creepin' In"

"Letters From The Wasteland"

[Edit: Of course, five minutes after I say something, the freakin' water comes back on. I swear, I go to the trouble of finding the apartment office number, get ready to call them, and the water cuts back on. Oh well, at least now I can shower]

So I actually woke up on time this morning, a strange and rare occurance on par with the Second Coming. For once, I was going to arrive at work on time.

Then I went into the bathroom to shower. And there's no water. None. Turning on any faucet in my apartment ilicites a rushing outpouring of nothing. And I really need to shower before I go to work...and I need to brush my teeth. Hell, I'd just like to be able to pee (can't flush the toilet, though--no water). As soon as I find the number, I'm calling maintenance and figuring out what the hell is going on, because this can't go for long. I don't have the time or the patience for it to do so.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Walk Tall"

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"I Am Feeling Really Stupid Now"

I'm currently very annoyed with Blogger. Why? Well, I've written two or three entries over as many days that the stupid program has eaten up and shown no signs of (the original write-up on Dylan's Empire Burlesque and a spiel about my inability to find Toad the Wet Sprocket's new live album, Welcome Home). The whole point of using this site for the blogging thing is that it's supposed to be easy and all, which I don't see as the case when two out of every three posts I write end up disappearing.

Anyway, just got done practicing the guitar a little bit. I can get the fingering for G, C, and D right without having to look at my hands too much now, but my changes between chords are still really, really slow (I'm sure if I practiced an hour or two every day, this would change). The problem I'm encountering now is that my guitar is horribly out of tune, and even chords I know how to play competently (like G, the only chord I've actually totally memorized from the first time I tried to learn the guitar a decade and a half ago) sound awful. Need to have my dad or my uncle help me tune it again (I used to be able to tune by ear, but alas, this is no longer the case). That means I have to deal with an out of tune guitar until at least Friday or Saturday. Guess I can always work on just changing chords, even if they sound bad.

Got tickets for dad and I to go see 1964 the Tribute this coming Saturday. They're probably the best Beatles tribute band out there (which is saying a lot more than you think, honest. These guys are a blast and do a phenomenal job). I've seen them probably six or seven times since I was in high school, and I love it every time. Dad has seen them at least a couple of times, including once two years ago with Scott and me. He was enthusiastic about seeing them when I brought up the idea Sunday night, so I went and got tickets before going back into work Monday night. The nice thing about taking dad is that I'll probably get (1) dinner out of the deal and (2) my ticket gets paid for by the folks. Dinner and show is a pretty good deal, and dad and I don't get to go to nearly as many concerts together anymore as I'd like (last one we attended was Dylan/Nelson back in September, and Clapton in June before that. Before Clapton, it was probably...REO Speedwagon/Styx back in summer of 2001. Used to be, we hit a concert every few months--Tom Petty, Doobie Brothers, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Genesis, and the Rolling Stones are just some of the shows we've seen since I was in the 5th grade. And that's not counting the shows I've seen without him--Dylan in 2001, Styx/Frampton, Jars of Clay, Green Day, Aerosmith, and a few others. Hey, my dad and I really like music, what can I say?). Anyway, it'll be a busy but fulfilling weekend, that's for sure.


Song of the Moment: Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Fall Down"

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"Bob Dylan - Empire Burlesque"

I was apprehensive about purchasing this album. I knew going in that its production was too slick, too dated; I knew the songs weren't his best, that he didn't give it his best effort throughout. I knew all this, and I bought the album anyway. But hey, for less than $10, it was worth a shot, right?

And turns out that I was about half right. Yeah, the production is dated and very state of the art (for a given 1985 value of "state of the art"), but the songs are some of the strongest he'd written in years.

The production really only overshadows the songs on a couple of tracks, when synthesizers, drum machines, and synth horns overwhelm what should be very straightforward tunes. Dylan wrote some beautiful melodies for these songs, and it's a shame to see them washed out with electronic drums and thing guitar sound. He had a couple of different bands for the project--some of the songs were recorded with the band from Infidels (sans Mark Knopfler), and some were recorded with various members of the Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Howie Epstein). There are some great guitar licks in here, and it's really too bad that the guitars are so buried in the mix. The songs are also marred by the backup singers (moreso than anything on Street Legal), with the exception of "I'll Remember You."

Lyrically, Dylan is in fine form on this album. It's as strong--if not stronger--as anything on Infidels, and seems in many ways to be an extension of the style from that record. His phrases are rife with ambiguity and double meaning, full of the swirling imagery with which Dylan populated his best songs.

One gets the feeling listening to this album that, had it been made a decade earlier or a decade later, it would have been a near-masterpiece. As it stands, the album is a flawed effort. Dylan sounds like he's still trying to be a contemporary rock star, but the effort is rather flat. Some four years later, he would begin to shed this act, working instead towards being an elder statesman of rock, crafting solid albums like Oh Mercy and Time out of Mind. But Empire Burlesque stands as a glitzy, over-produced example of Dylan attempting to remain cutting edge and contemporary, and instead coming off as trying much too hard.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Trust Yourself"

"Turn Up Your Radio"

So I did something rather stupid last night.

I keep a little boombox stereo in my bedroom to listen to when I go to bed. I got into the habit of listening to music as I go to sleep years ago, and it's become so much a part of my sleeping process that I have a tough time sleeping without music. I also haul the thing to the doorway and turn it up fairly loud so I can listen to music when I shower (have I ever mentioned that I'm a music fanatic of the highest degree, that I have to have music playing as often as possible? Yeah). Well, given that I'm lazy, that means the stereo will often sit in my doorway from the time I get up until it's time to go to bed again, when I move it back to the nightstand. Anyway, last night, as I was getting ready to shower after getting back from the bar, I accidentally kicked the boombox. Thing is, the lid was open. I'd opened it to change CDs. And I kicked the lid. I broke the lid clean off the stereo.

Thankfully, it still works. I was able to get the lid back on, though it is permanently broken now and I have no way of fixing it. But if I'm careful when I open the lid, it'll stay on. I just feel awful clumsy is all. Worst part is, I did this while completely sober and wide awake--I hadn't had anything to drink at the bar, and I'd only been awake since about 1.30 yesterday afternoon (so not even 12 hours by that point).

But yeah. I felt kinda stupid when I did that. Such is life, though.

Today, I've already managed to get some stuff accomplished (including a bizarre dream where I became the replacement drummer for my uncle's band and had to learn to play the drums as we went along. Apparently ended up doing pretty well, because a girl from a class I was in--a class I was attending in the dream, and a girl who doesn't actually exist but did in the dream--thought I was wonderful. Weird), mostly figuring out how to finish up the Succubus Saga in Crooked Halo (I swear, changing up the original storyline has been useful, but it's caused as many problems as it's fixed along the way). I like what I came up with, it adds some character depth and character tension (and with the female characters, which is surprising for me--I don't use the two females nearly as often as I need to). And I'm almost done writing out the story (another comic script or two should do it. Admittedly, the scripts are about three weeks ahead of the actual comic, but that's good).

Well, off to shower. Gotta go to work in about an hour.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Clean-Cut Kid"

"Tight Connection To My Heart"

Just got back from hearing my uncle play. Didn't say the whole show tonight because I have a full day of work tomorrow. But that's just as well--I had a woman my mother's age hitting on me at the bar, which is usually a sign that (1) the women have had too much to drink and (2) it's time for me to make a quick, stealthy exit.

Picked up Bob Dylan's Empire Burlesque this evening, and I think it's pretty decent so far. A little too of its time (1985, which gives you an indication of why this is a problem), but it's a pretty solid record. More thoughts on that later.

The big problem, though, is that I am really running out of good Dylan albums to get, and I still want more Dylan. I'm fearful, because I'm starting to think, "y'know, maybe I should give his reborn Christian albums a shot. I mean, how bad could they be?" And I know the answer is "really bad," just from what little I've heard and read. And yet...there's that urge to get them anyway, because hey, it's Dylan, and he always puts at least something worthwhile on each of his records. I should probably convince someone to sit on my head until the urge passes.

The problem with that is that I'll probably find too many takers and have to choose one. Such is luck. Anyway, I smell of cigarette smoke (ugh), so I'm off for a shower.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "I'll Remember You"

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"Brian Wilson - Smile"

Brian Wilson is a mythic figure in rock and roll history--the creative powerhouse behind the Beach Boys; the guy who lay in bed for a year, refusing to leave; the man who built a sandbox in his living room so he'd have the beach right there. Wilson's psyche was always a delicate thing, it seemed, but his creative genius was virtually unrivalled in popular music in the 1960s.

Smile was to be Wilson's magnum opus, the proposed follow-up to the Beach Boys' smash Pet Sounds LP and the culmination of Wilson's experiments with modular music (what exactly "modular music" is I'm still not sure, but I think I understand what he's talking about. More on that when we get there). Instead, it was shelved, becoming the phantom ship and albatross of Wilson's career.

So Smile became a legend, possibly the most longed-for unreleased album ever. Various bootlegs of what Wilson had already managed to record (which was considerable, it turns out) circulated among collectors and enthusiasts, but neither hide nor hair of the complete album were ever seen. Most suspected it would remain that way.

Flash forward to 2003, and Brian Wilson finally sits down and completes Smile. It seems to be on a whim. Maybe it was just an effort to exorcise a 37 year old demon. Whatever the impetus behind the album's completion, Wilson and his band took it out on the road, playing it for audiences, and a year later, got together in the studio and completely re-recorded the entire album for CD issue.

So, is Smile as good as everyone always hoped it would be? It's hard to say, really. People put so much faith in Wilson and his work on this project back in 1966 that he and it took on an aura of infallibility (much like the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper's or, really, most any point in their career). Folks always assumed it was a perfect pop album, the epitome of psychadelia and Americana and contemporary music. Folks built up all these expectations for the album, and really created in their minds a completely different album, one that bore no resemblence to anything human beings could craft. You'd have thought that Wilson had somehow tapped into the celestial music of the spheres, listening to some of these rather rabid fans.

But I digress. Smile is, all things told, a phenomenal album by any realistic measuring stick, a series of song cycles that cause one to sit back and think, sit back and laugh, or simply sit back and enjoy. Regardless, it is an amazing piece of work, and one which was worth the wait.

Musically, Wilson created not a set of songs in the tradtional pop-rock sense, but a series of musical vignettes, a few dozen short musical interludes that weave together to create a bizarre and fulfilling picture of Wilson's vision of America circa 1966. Each "song" on the album is actually a collection of shorter, "modular" bits, a collection of seemingly unrelated but actually interconnected musical pastiches. It's as though each vignette is a short story in music form, but the sum total of the short stories is greater than each story by itself.

Wilson has a great ear for instrumentation. Instruments are chosen for the texture or feel they provide to a piece. Therefore, anything and everything go. You have any number of exotic or unusual instruments, but the predominant sound is that of the piano and various organ-like instruments the band uses. Various forms of percussion and bass, reed instruments and horns and glokenspiels and melotrones and God knows what else all come together to form a swirl of soothing, beauitful sound. You won't find anything traditionally rock and roll about this album--guitars appear rarely, and then only as part of the overall swirl of music. There are only a couple of tracks where guitars are even halfway prominent, and then it's only for the briefest of moments. You can see why the other Beach Boys were afraid to issue this record--it was unlike anything they'd ever done before, even Pet Sounds.

Vocals in Smile are pretty typical of the Beach Boys style, even if this isn't a Beach Boys album. There's lots of harmonizing and lots of beautiful melodies. Lyrically, Smile appears pretty shallow--there's a song about vegetables, for crying out loud--but the words of the lyrics are actually rather unimportant. What is important is the mood and the feeling the vocals evoke, and to that end, the singers are very effective. In Wilson's hands, the vocals are simply another instrument to add more texture to the songs.

Ultimately, Smile is a series of musical medlies about Wilson's America. It's a beautiful and ratehr moving--if more than a little odd--tribute to what he saw as the heart of this country. It's an impressive piece of work, especially if you consider the fact that this came from the same guy who wrote "Surfin' USA" and "Little Duece Coupe."


Song of the Moment: Brian Wilson, "Good Vibrations"

"Heroes And Villains"

Yesterday ended up being a busy day. After work, I went to Midwest City to help my cousin out with some questions he had about his Government class (the poor guy's been out of school for over 4 years, so he's not really in the "college groove," as it were). His daughter, Bailey, the two year old I've mentioned before, still reacts strangely to me--whenever she first sees me, she's shy as all hell, but after about ten minutes, she suddenly remembers who I am, grabs me by the hand, and starts dragging me around the house to play. I think part of it has to do with seeing her right after she's woken up from a nap.

Anyway, helped my cousin out with his stuff, he and Bailey left, and my aunt, uncle and I ate dinner. After dinner, we relaxed for a bit and then all headed down to Norman, where one of my uncle's bands was playing. Convinced one of my coworkers, Vicki, to come out and hear them, and she had a blast (as I thought she would). Got home from that, showered, and crashed.

So I woke up this afternoon to the phone ringing and Scott needing a favor from me (this is not an uncommon thing). I've done a whole lot of nothing in the hour since then, except for decide that I need to write a review of Brian Wilson's Smile, which I got a copy of from my uncle last night. Of course, I'm still trying to figure out if I'm even capable of talking about the album, since the meat of it is not in the lyrics, but in the music and the texture. Oh well. I'll give it a shot, at least. Look for that sometime this afternoon.


Song of the Moment: Brian Wilson, "Heroes and Villains"

Friday, January 21, 2005

"My Heart's In The Highlands"

Today is payday...which would be all well and good if my paycheck were going to be even halfway decent. But it covers a pair of weeks when I was gone or only working a minimal number of hours, so we're talking less than $200 here. On the positive side, my next paycheck will be fairly decent and probably include my pay raise.

Practiced the guitar for awhile last night. I'd forgotten how tender this makes the fingertips until one grows callouses. Note to self: get the fingers hardened against such pain as soon as possible. Easiest way to manage this: practice the guitar even more.

I can play a great G. I can even manage a passably convincing D. My C needs a little work, but such is the nature of things. I am not even attempting those fancier chords yet. Let me get the three basics down. Then I can play like half the songs in existence.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Highlands"

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"All She Wants To Do Is Ride Around"

I have the song "Mustang Sally" stuck in my head. This would be fine, except I don't remember who originally recorded the song. That's a very frustrating thing for me, let me tell you.

In other news, I'm not sure I like the experience system in Final Fantasy II. It's just...bizarre. Oh well.


Song of the Moment: "Mustang Sally"

"George Harrison - All Things Must Pass"

George Harrison was always known as "the quiet Beatle." You had John, the outspoken, brash, social commentating wise-guy; Paul was the cute one, the one with the cherub cheeks and the delicious understanding of pop melodies; Ringo was the drummer, a nice guy, the one with the big nose; George was the quiet one. He was the weird one, the one who dabbled in Eastern music and Eastern philosophy. A hell of a guitar player. John and Paul would occasionally toss him a bone and let him have a song or two per album, but that was about it.

You could see towards the end of the Beatles' career that George was starting to come into himself as a songwriter. His two contributions to Abbey Road, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," are among the most-loved and best songs of the entire Beatles catalog. There were hints that George had more, much more, to say, and only needed the space and the opportunity to say it.

Well, he got the chance on All Things Must Pass, a triple-album chock-full of all the pent-up frustration George felt in those closing years with the Beatles. And damn if it didn't make for some of the absolute best music ever.

The CD reissue of George's opus retains all the original stuff from those three records, plus it throws in a handful of demo cuts and a new recording of one of the album's key tracks, "My Sweet Lord." And thanks to CD technology, you get it all on a very managable two CDs rather than three cumbersome vinyl records (though there is something to be said for the old records...I mean, c'mon, this stuff is what vinyl was made for).

To be blunt, there's really not a bad cut on this set. The jams that made up the third record (the last about four or five tracks on disc 2 of the CD collection) are a little unnecessary, but you do get a sneak peak at the creation of one of the best groups ever, Derek and the Dominoes (the future members of that band all appear on this record, and all are involved in the jams. You kinda get a feeling for the direction Derek and the Dominoes would later take, which is neat). But the rest of the album is top-notch, proving that George could be every bit as inspired and prolific as Lennon and McCartney.

First, the music--George utilized Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique in recording this album, which means everything sounds big and full and lush. George brought in more musicians than you can shake a stick at (most of whom went uncredited, though some--like Eric Clapton--went uncredited due to record label issues). There are several tracks where you have a half dozen different guitars being played all at once, and each one is strumming a slightly different pattern, and it all just fits together. This record sounds big, sounds like it's making a statement, and that's exactly what it does.

Every song on here is good, which is impressive not only for an album of this size and scope, but for a solo project (though the inclusion of two different versions of "Isn't it a Pity" seems a little unnecessary. Admittedly, it's a great song with a beautiful melody, and the two different versions have enough variation that you don't mind hearing it twice, so it's okay). Most of these are originals (with the exception of a smooth cover of Bob Dylan's "If Not for You," a song which George helped Dylan come up with anyway, and the opener, "I'd Have You Anytime," co-written by Dylan and Harrison), and Harrison makes some remarkable statements about himself, his history, the world in general, and life and death. These are heavy themes, but Harrison treats them with a stately dignity, and the songs never feel heavy handed or preachy (problems which some later Harrison songs would suffer from).

Lyrically, Harrison is in fine form here. "My Sweet Lord" is a beautiful meditation on the singer's desire to know the nature of God; "Apple Scruffs" is an endearing tribute to a group of dedicated Beatles fans; "What is Life" is a rolicking, chugging love song with a punchy horn section; "Isn't it a Pity" is a beautiful plea for peace, love, and understanding; and the title track is one of the deepest, most meaningful songs ever written.

That song, "All Things Must Pass," is laden with meaning. On one level, it's about the demise of the Beatles. On another, it's about the end of a relationship. On yet another, it's about life, death, and the transitory nature of reality. But Harrison never treats this passing as a negative thing. All things, he says, must pass; that is the nature of life. "Sunrise doesn't last all morning," he sings, but just as the good will pass, so will the bad: "Darkness only stays the nighttime," and "It's not always going to be this grey." This is the ultimate song of hope: Harrison knows that nothing is here to stay, and that gives him a strange sense of comfort, because it means the chaos doesn't last forever, either. It's a beautiful, bittersweet notion that Harrison conveys in one of his most achingly beautiful melodies, a slow, strummed acoustic guitar setting the pace, and layers of guitar (slide and acoustic) and a subdued horn section only drive the point home.

One of the key features of the album is Harrison's fascination with Eastern philosophy and religion. Several of the songs have religious elements or themes, whether it's the prayer of "My Sweet Lord," coming to terms with "The Art of Dying," or "Chanting the Name of the Lord," who is awaiting on us all (in "The Lord is Awaiting on You All," of course). Harrison is nigh obsessed with the notion of God, deity, and the divine, and his own particular spirituality permeates every aspect of this album.

The CD reissue adds four new tracks--demo versions of "Beware of Darkness" and "Let it Down," an alternate instrumental version of "What is Life," and a new version of "My Sweet Lord" dubbed "My Sweet Lord (2000)." The two demos are excellent. "Beware of Darkness" almost has more impact in the simple acoustic guitar setting of the demo than in the final version, and "Let it Down" is more harrowing without the horns and backup singers. The instrumental of "What is Life" is interesting for the variation on the horn part from the original, and it makes for a fun karaoke verison to sing along to in the shower. The new "My Sweet Lord" featuers some breathtaking slide guitar work from George and a slightly varied arrangement and instrumentation, but the effect is rather ruined by the backup singer and Harrison's own rather ragged vocal performance.

All Things Must Pass is one of the best rock albums of all time, hands down. None of the other former Beatles released anything like it upon the band's initial breakup. It rivals McCartney's Band on the Run and Lennon's Imagine as the best ex-Beatle solo album, and for good reason. George may have been the quiet Beatle, but that was only because he was saving up all his words for this record.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "If Not for You"

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"The Fountain Of Perpetual Mirth"

I completed the first Final Fantasy game this evening. Me completing a videogame is such a rare occurance that I felt it warranted a mention.

Overall, I was pleased with the game, though I wish it had taken longer to complete (only lasted about 12, 13 hours...short for an RPG). Granted, this game was originally an NES game (y'know, old school, 8-bit Nintendo), so it's sorta to be understood. The system was fairly limited, and that much gameplay out of an old cart like that (when a game like the original Super Mario Brothers can take you less than half an hour, if you're good) was pretty impressive.

The fact that I had a walkthrough helped, too. I'm man enough to admit that I'd have never defeated the game (or found the airship, gotten the class change, etc.) if I hadn't had the walkthrough. I still had to play the game, mind you. I just knew where I needed to go.

I have the overwhelming urge to do a review of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, not because I've only just heard it for the first time recently (this is not the case--it's been one of my favorite albums for about four or five years now), but because I've been listening to it again this week after borrowing it from my dad and remembering that it's such a brilliant album. Definitely proved that George Harrison was feeling repressed in the latter days of the Beatles and had a little pent up frustration he wanted to vent.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)"

"Maroon 5 - Songs About Jane"

Maroon 5 isn't normally the sort of band I'd listen to. It's even less the sort of band I'd expect my brother Clif to listen to. But it's what he wanted for Christmas, so I obliged him and purchased the CD.

These guys are pretty good, I must admit. Musically, they've got a nice white-boy funk groove thing going, with some excellent guitar work. There's a sort of Barry White bass and drums groove that underlies each song on the album, providing the funky blue-eyed soul foundation for the record.

Musically, the album works pretty well, then. The songs sort of start to blend together towards the latter half of the record, when the similar nature of the groove starts to blur one song into the next. But there are a few highlights--the opener, "Harder to Breathe," and the second tune on the record, "This Love," are the strongest tracks here, and frontloading the album with them probably creates unrealistic expectations for the rest of the songs. But such is life.

Where the album seems to fall apart for me is lyrically. This is, for the most part, an exceptionally raunchy album. The Barry White comparison works on multiple levels--these songs not only have that same bedroom groove, but a similar bedroom lyrical theme. The lyrics generally deal with how much the guy wants the girl (or, since the singer seems just the slightest bit narcissistic, how much he knows she wants him), and all the dirty, dirty details of their sordid lust-filled nights. If you don't pay much attention to the words, this isn't too much of a problem, since the vocalist is more concerned with creating a mood than with making a profound statement. The vocals emphasize the sound of the vocals rather than what is actually said, and that works in a way. But for someone like me, who puts so much stock in lyrics, it's a bit of an issue.

All in all, Songs About Jane is an okay album, filled with interesting moments and a few enjoyable songs, but after the record's done spinning, it really doesn't leave much of an impact.


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

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"I've Been Waiting To Awaken From These Dreams"

I really need to stop with the taking two or three hour naps every afternoon. It's really messing up my sleep cycle and causing me no end of trouble when I go to bed at night.

My phone has rang nearly off the hook all afternoon and evening. Mom's called, Beth's called, my cousin Chris called, Scott called, Amanda W.'s like folks are lining up to talk to me. Which is cool and all, I guess. I often miss having contact with lots of people. I'm a social person by general disposition, but I'm also a loner who doesn't necessarily put himself out there to be around people. I mean, my lunch with Audrey yesterday was the first time in a few weeks that I'd really made an effort to associate with someone other than those I work with or those I'm related to. It's not that I don't want to be around people (though there is that sometimes...a holdover from elementary and junior high school), just that...well, it's tough finding folks around here that I want to hang out with, y'know? Oh well. I can get by for another semester here.

Started reading a new book on Wendy's recommendation. It's called The Ill-Made Mute, by Cecelia Dart-Thornton. I'm only just barely into the novel (and it's a trilogy), but it's pretty good so far. The language the author uses is a little too florid and fancy for my tastes sometimes. I've noticed that most of the books Wendy recommends are along those lines--beautifully written, but a little too florid for me most of the time. Still good books though, and I think this one sounds pretty interesting. It seems to weave a lot of folklore into itself, and it has a believable, interesting world. We'll just have to see.

On the subject of books, I finally found volume 5 of the Shaman King manga. It was supposed to come out sometime last month, so of course it's only made its way to Oklahoma this week. I'll probably be picking that up this weekend.


Song of the Moment: Yoko Kanno & the Seatbelts, "Bad Dog No Biscuits"

Monday, January 17, 2005

"If It's Funny Try And Understand"

So I was watching A Hard Day's Night this evening, mostly because it has one of the best soundtracks ever (it's a toss-up between Hard Day's Night and Help!, really), but also because it's just a great flick--funny, wry, and well-paced. But one of the things I noticed (and it always strikes me as strange, everytime) is, during the final concert scene, the way the girls in the audience are just going batshit crazy.

Now, as anyone who knows me even halfway well can atest, I am a very obvious music fanatic in general and Beatlemaniac in particular. I love their music, and I think that a big part of me would not exist in any real sense if their music didn't exist. If nothing else, the Beatles allowed my father and I to bond when I was younger. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting in the living room floor after dinner, listening to Beatles records and my father descirbing what it was like when these albums first came out. The Beatles are the reason I love music so much, really.

But I've never understood the way girls just seemed to...freak out over the Beatles. I think I've mentioned it here before (in fact, probably the last time I watched A Hard Day's Night), but it still boggles my mind. I mean, it's music, and sure, music is great, and these guys are the best, but c'mon, it's nothing to cream your shorts over (and really, there were girls who got a little too...excited, shall we say, at Beatles shows. S'truth). Maybe these people were simply more capable of passion and enthusiasm than we are today, though I doubt it (since most of these people are the parents of people my age).

I'll probably never understand it, but hey, I'm not batshit crazy like these people were, right?


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Can't Buy Me Love"

"Moxy Früvous - Bargainville"

Moxy Früvous is a band I was introduced to my sophomore year of college (yes, I can still remember when it happened). Had someone mentioned them to me any earlier than that, I don't know that I'd have been prepared for their style, and I probably wouldn't have understood most of the jokes.

As it stands, Moxy Früvous was the band that I originally started using file sharing programs to find. They're Canadian, and finding their albums here in Oklahoma (or in Arkansas, for that matter) is nigh impossible (I've only ever seen their albums in the stores four times--three times, I bought what I found. the fourth time was no good to me, 'cause it was an album I already had).

Bargainville is their first full-length album, and it establishes their style, sound, themes, and quirks right off the bat. This is a band with wit, heart, and head, all rolled into four guys from the Great White North.

Musically, Bargainville is fairly standard Canadian smirky pop. They sound a bit like a cross between Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants (who, while not Canadian, have the quirky thing down pat), and this is a good thing. Strummed acoustics, sparse percussion, the occasional harmonica or accordion flourish, and an occasional electric guitar for effect--the instrumentation is laid-back, spare, and folky. The instruments are really secondary, though, because the draw here are the four guys' voices.

It's rare that you find a band where the singers harmonize well or often. Well, Moxy excel at it. They've got vocal chops in spades, man. They trade lead vocal duties, share backing and call-and-answer harmonies, and generally give you the impression that this is all pretty effortless and fun. Above all, it's fun.

And that's what you get here--a sense of four friends hanging out and just having fun. They occasionally tackle an important issue--"River Valley" is about industrial pollution, "Stuck in the '90s" is about the materialism of the late 20th century, and "Gulf War Song," a beautiful a capella song about the Persian Gulf War that's as applicable now as it was a decade and a half ago--but for every song about the decline of contemporary society, you've got a song like "Laika," a love song about a guy and his spaceship, or "The Lazy Boy," an ode to an armchair, or "King of Spain," a rousing number about a former monarch doing minimum wage labor in Canada after willingly giving up his throne, or "Spiderman," a cover of the old '60s TV show theme song. These guys are about whimsy and humor, self-deprication and a gentle understanding of what it is that makes people behave the way they do.

Best of all, all the songs on this album are solid. Some of them, like "Morphee" (a song sung completely in French. If only there were an English translation included) and "Darlington Darling," aren't quite as good as the best songs on here, but this isn't to say that they are bad songs. They're still quite good, just not as good.

The best song on here, though, and the one which probably sums up the band the best, is "The Drinking Song." It mixes humor, wit, whimsy, bittersweet rememberance, and resignation in one beautiful package. It's ostensibly about the time the narrator's drinking buddy died of drinking, but it's also a requiem for good times, a recollection of how life moves on after tragedy. And it's a beautiful song, at that. "The Drinking Song" also throws in a brief snatch of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene," and that right there was enough to pique my interest in Leadbelly.

All in all, Bargainville is a great album. It's one of those where I never have to hit the skip button, and I know most of the songs word for word. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes a little smirk in their song.


Song of the Moment: Moxy Früvous, "BJ Don't Cry"

"Like A Goldfish In A Bowl"

So while I'm really enjoying the original Final Fantasy via the Dawn of Souls GBA version, I have to admit that the dungeon I'm currently wandering through is starting to annoy me just a mite. See, you have random encounters, right? A battle with random enemies every so often. It's how you gain experience and all. Big part of the game, right?

Yeah, well, in the dungeon I'm currently crawling through, I've literally had a random encounter every time I've taken a step. It's insane. On the positive side, hey, lots of experience and gold. On the negative side, it's gonna take forever to get through this damn place. Especially when I keep encountering the most common enemy in this place, the Hill Gigas. Takes an attack from both of my fighting party members (I have a warrior and a thief, my two attackers, and a white mage for healing and a black mage for nuking things) just to knock one of those guys down. I'd gotten used to everything falling to a single attack from either of them, or an attack from one of them and an attack from one of the mages (who do significantly less damage than the fighters because, hey, they do magic instead).

To call this "annoying as all hell" is to not do it justice, believe me.


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Dance Naked"

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"I Had A Job In The Great North Woods"

Went home yesterday afternoon for a visit, laundry, food, and a favor for Scott (he needed me to take a few pictures for him with the ol' digital camera). Anyway, while I was there, I was put to work, which wasn't quite what I was expecting.

My parents are thinking about moving again. Before they do that, though, they need to go through all the stuff in the attic and sort it into stuff to keep, stuff to sell at a garage sale, and stuff to just trash. Well, it's difficult to do that up in the attic, y'know? So dad recruited me to help take stuff out of the attic and put it in the empty garage spot so mom could sort things. It really does take two people to do, because it's easier to hand boxes down from the attic than it is to climb down the ladder carrying them yourself. Faster, too.

So I spent a couple of hours last night helping dad with that stuff. Found a bunch of my junk up there, actually--stuff from when we moved back at the fag-end of 2000 (so just barely over four years ago, for those of you keeping score at home). I went through the boxes this afternoon when I got home, and found some neat items--old books from my childhood, pictures, birthday cards, hats, poems and notebooks (including the elusive Arkansas History notebook I thought I'd lost four or five years ago--no, it was just in a separate box from the rest of my college notebooks)...all manner of things. Even a few t-shirts (like the old Cross-Eyed Yeti iron-on t-shirts Adam made back in the spring of 2002 for our shows at Ozarks). It was fun going through that stuff.

But I brought home more than just stuff that was mine. My dad gave me a few things of his--first of all, his old Fender acoustic guitar. He got a new Martin acoustic a week or so ago, and doesn't really need two acoustic guitars (I mean, if you've got a Martin, that's really all you'll ever need--just ask Clif). So he just gave me his old one. It'll be a good instrument to learn to play on (and I really do want to learn to play...I figure I might actually have the free time for it this semester). He also gave me all of his Beatles collectable plates. They're these eight plates with Beatles pictures painted on them. Very nifty things. Of course, I should really amend myself here--dad meant to give me the plates, but accidentally only gave me the boxes for them. The plates are, according to mom, in the hutch back at the house, wrapped up, because she didn't want to stick them up in the attic (not that I can blame her--I mean, as soon as I have them and some display brackets, those things are going to be out on a shelf for all the world to see!). I was rather flattered that dad felt I deserved these things, really. Both the guitar and the plates. Feels like...validation as his son, I guess.

Saw Bubba Ho-Tep this afternoon with Ev, and damn if that wasn't a funny movie. It's a low-key sort of humor, though (I mean, aside from the idea of a mummy that's sucking the souls out of the elderly via their assholes). Fairly subdued. But Bruce Campbell does a brilliant job as Elvis, and the movie manages to even make a few clever comments on the way we treat the elderly in American society and the way we think about people. Very cool.

Anyway, tomorrow I've got something of a lunch date with Audrey. That ought to be fun. She's a wonderful person to spend time with, though I always get the impression that I'm not a decent-enough person to be around her (if that makes any sense. And it's not anything she does or says. It's just that I feel there are certain people that I am literally not a good enough person to really deserve to have anything to do with them). Ah well. Maybe some of her decency and virtue will rub off on me, eh?


Song of the Moment: Ben Folds, "Doctor My Eyes"

Friday, January 14, 2005

"State Of Love And Trust"

So I got several applications completed this afternoon, which made me feel pretty good. I was especially pleased with the Vanderbilt application, which I was able to do completely online (including attaching my writing sample, CV, and statement of purpose) and which didn't charge me the application fee because I did fill out the stuff online (which was really nice--$40 I don't have to pay!).

I've decided not to apply to Ohio State right now. I'll probably look to do it in a couple of weeks, get it all taken care of for the next academic year, I guess.

Anyway, just have to go down to the post office after work and mail out a couple of things to two schools, and I'll have most of my applications sent off and away. That's a good feeling, let me tell you.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Do the Evolution"

"This Is Not For You"

So yesterday turned out to be an interesting dichotomy between things going exactly as planned and things going straight to hell.

Bad news first--while the deadline for Ohio State admissions is January 15th, the deadline for the History Department is December 1st. And I had to find this out in a way that probably made me seem like a complete and total moron to the person I was talking to (who, had she been helpful and useful when I first emailed her back over the summer, might've actually given me a chance of getting my crap together earlier. But that's just passing the buck and laying blame on someone else). So yeah, even if I apply to Ohio State (which I'm still going to do--you never know), I won't be getting into the History PhD program this year.

On to the good news, though. First of all, I think I figured out why I didn't get in Ohio State last year. Seems that they have some sort of mentor/sponsorship program with the professors. You find a professor to sponsor you, essentially, and it all but guarantees you a spot. Well, I'd have had one of those in the guy whom both my OU and Ozarks advisors knew, but said professor--a David Cressy--is on sabatical right now, or was last year when I sent off my application. Sorta hard to have an advocate when he's not at the school at the time.

But that means that it's quite possible the only reason I didn't get into Ohio State was that I didn't have a sponsor. My academics were good enough, my work was good enough, I just didn't have the connection. It kinda gives me a bit of hope.

Second piece of good news is that getting the hold on my academic records here at OU taken care of yesterday was easier than I thought it would be. The hardest part was standing line for twenty or thirty minutes at the Bursar's Office, only to get shunted off to another desk for someone else to take care of the problem. But once I had the hold release slip, it was downright easy to get my transcripts taken care of, so that was good.

Anyway, today I'm going to finish up three applications and get them sent out so they can meet the deadline. The other two I'm doing have later deadlines, so they're not as immediate (which is good, since I don't think I could afford more than about three application fees right now, what with having just given the university a hell of a lot of money and shelling out $80 for GRE scores to be sent to all the schools I'm applying to). That's basically the plan for today. And maybe a little Final Fantasy I. Yeah, probably.


Song of the Moment: Pearl Jam, "Courdoroy"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Tonight We Ride For Mansions Of Glory In Suicide Machines"

It's been a busy couple of days, mostly spent trying to get grad school applications together and out the door (still not quite ready...hopefully get a couple of them sent today).

I've run into a couple of problems, though. First (and most annoying) is that there was a hold put on my transcripts here at OU because of those slightly...overdue books I had. I've returned the books, and the problem should be correcting itself (I'd say I hope it's already corrected itself, except that I know how the bureaucracy works at this damn place), so I have to go to the Bursar's Office after work today and chat with them and convince them to remove the hold so I can go upstairs and tell the folks in the Records Office to send out a dozen copies of my transcript to various institutions.

The second problem is with Ohio State. When they sent me that rejection letter last year, one of the things it said was that, if I wanted to reapply to the program again this year, I wouldn't have to resubmit all of my materials. So I call them up to find out what I need to resubmit and don't need to resend. Well, apparently only one person in the entire history department knows this crap (which strikes me as highly suspect), and she's been sick the past few days when I've called. I'm getting ready to call again. I will not be denied.

Started playing Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls (the Gameboy Advance game that contains revamped versions of Final Fantasy I and II). They completely reworked the magic system for number one, so now you have a large pool of magic points from which to draw to cast spells (in the original version, you had two or three spell usages per spell level, and that was it. So I could cast one of my three first level spells four times before I needed more spell points. It was awful, and meant that mages were pretty useless unless it was a major battle, because you didn't want to waste their magic in minor random encounters and they can't attack worth a damn). Having to choose what three spells I want to be able to cast at a given spell level is an interesting little challenge, since it forces me decide what will be most effective (with my white mage, I usually just focus on getting her the healing/curing spells, mostly, and then maybe pick up something else once in awhile. With the black mage, it's all about the three elemental attack spells. Forget those stupid status ailment spells that drop the target's evasion percentage or maybe poison them or something. No, we go for the attack, not status. Status ailments aren't needed if you kill the stuff quick enough. And I've got the sleep spell, which is actually useful against large groups because it gives you a chance to pick them off at your leisure).

Anyway, good game. I'm curious to try out Final Fantasy II, though, because I've heard such strange things about the combat/experience system in it. Sounds rather like a bizarre combination of the sort of thing you do in one of the basic FF games coupled with the ability system from Tactics (apparently, whatever you do--such as physical attacks, defending, casting certain types of spells--will increase your ability in that specific area, and thus your stats. So you want to be a little more strategic in the way you go through random encounters...which will be something of a pain, since my usual approach to random encounters is "have everyone attack head-on, except for maybe the black mage, who casts a fun target-all spell to nuke the enemies). But I'm going to beat the first one first.


Song of the Moment: Regular Joes, "Flame On, Fire of Love"

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"And We're Starting A New Life"

Got my work schedule for the spring today. I'm starting out with 31 hours per week, so that's good. Means I'll actually be able to make a little money this semester, what with not having to pay tuition this time around (huzzah!).

Got most of the stuff together for the job application. Need to go get a copy of my transcript from OU after work, and I need to get ahold of the folks at Ozarks in the Registrar's Office to get transcripts from them (lots and lots of transcripts). If only they'd answer their phones...


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "Into the Mystic"

"Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey"

So I've been on a Van Morrison kick this week. Sunday and yesterday I listened to Too Late To Stop Now, a live album from the early '70s that found Van at his peak. I spent all day at work listening to Moondance, the quitessential Van album. And today it's been Tupelo Honey.

I was introduced to Tupelo Honey, like most of Van's work, by my sibling Clif during our summer in Yellowstone a couple of years ago. Van's stuff really grew on me over the course of that summer, to the point that I started searching for Van Morrison albums of my own. First I got Moondance, then I got Tupelo Honey.

The themes and styles of the two albums are rather different, but similar enough that you can tell they were both made by the same artist. Where Moondance was jazzy and concerned with deeply spiritual matters, Tupelo Honey is essentially country and concerned with domestic bliss. The songs have a simple, stately elegance to them, and the uptempo tunes (of which there are a few, including the R&B homage opener, "Wild Night") are bouncy, fun, and sing-along. Van seems incapable of playing the country music straight, though. He keeps inflecting it with gospel and rock/R&B overtones, and it makes for an interesting concoction.

Like much of Van's peak early '70s output, the entire album is worthwhile, with nary a dud amongst these nine tunes. "Wild Night" is an energetic, thoughtful tune about night life, with one of the most recognizable basslines ever laid down; "(Straight to Your Heart) Like a Cannonball" is a fun, whimsical take on love; "Tupelo Honey" is one of Van's most beautiful love songs; "I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative)" is one of the most entertaining songs Van's ever recorded; the closer "Moonshine Whiskey" is a multipart epic with tempo changes and a mention of "hot pants" (though the idea of Van wearing hot pants is a Oh, and don't let Van fool you--he is not, as he claims in the song, "from Arkansas." He's an Irish boy, born and bred in Belfast).

Lyrically, this is one of Van's strongest outtings. He usually takes the tack that less is more with lyrics, relying more on feeling and delivery to make his impact than particularly thought-provoking lyrics (admittedly, this doesn't seem to apply to Moondance, either. But look at His Band and the Street Choir, the album which fell between these two. It's a great record, but the lyrics are very simple and few). Van's meditations on love and domestic bliss, in part inspired by his recent marriage to singer Janet Planet, are thoughtful, warm, and even downright pastoral. This is a Van who isn't searching his soul for the answers (like on Moondance), searching for catharsis (like on Astral Weeks), or haunted by bitterness (as he would be on some of his later albums). He is joyful, confident, and comfortable, and it makes for some of his best lyrics. It definitely makes for one of his best vocal performances.

Tupelo Honey is an album that fits together perfectly, a well-crafted set of tunes that all seem part of a whole. That whole is not a knock out--these songs will not radically alter your conscience, nor will they set the world afire. Rather, this is an album of simple pleasures, a pick-me-up on a cold winter's day. It's one of the albums I always listen to when I'm in a bad mood, because it's hard to stay in said mood when "I Wanna Roo You" is playing. If you have any appreciation for classic rock in general or Van in particular, or if you just happen to like good music, you'll do yourself a favor and go out and buy this album right now. Go on, do it.


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "Starting a New Life"

Monday, January 10, 2005

"All Night Long Like He Used To"

So I was cruising around the Rolling Stone website this morning, and ran across this article. The first half of the article, about Clapton playing a benefit concert for tsunami relief, is great. He's one of the numerous musicians doing what he can to aid those who were hurt by that tragedy.

But it's the second half of the article, the part about the song "Tears in Heaven," that really upsets and annoys me.

For some reason, I hate it when bands or musicians take an existing song and rerecord it for a new purpose. To clarify--remember the Elton John song "Candle in the Wind"? Well, it's originally about Marilyn Monroe, and it's a touching song that humanizes the sex symbol. Well, when Princess Diana died, Elton rerecorded it, changing the words so that they applied to her instead. Sure, that's his right (it's his damn song, after all), but it rather cheapens the original intent of the song. Hell, when I was doing a crossword the other day, and the clue was that the word was the person the song "Candle in the Wind" was about, the answer wasn't Monroe (or even her earthly alter-ego, Norma Jean), it was "Diana." That annoyed me to no end.

Well, this is even worse. I understand that it's for a good cause (where the case with the Elton John song was questionable, I think. Okay, so a member--no, former member of the royal family, and then only by marriage--of the English royal family dies, it is a tragedy. Any death is. But it was a gaudy and crass way to cash in on the death of a well-loved public figure). I know that proceeds will go to disaster relief and whatnot. But "Tears in Heaven" was a song for Clapton's four year old son, for God's sake. It just...doesn't seem right, I guess. Something about this bugs me to the core. Redoing the song in this context seems to devalue the original subject, Clapton's son.

Ugh. Ignore me. I'm annoyed with the inanity of humanity at the moment.


Song of the Moment: Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven"

"Lefty, He Can't Sing The Blues"

So when I was turning onto Gray Street this afternoon on my way to the post office, my car did this bizarre little swervy fishtail wiggle thing, and freaked me right the hell out. I thought I'd blown a tire or something; it felt like I was skidding along a huge patch of ice (but it was almost 70 outside, so there's no way it was ice). Anyway, I managed to regain control of the car without too much trouble (though it did kick my heartrate up a bit for the next several minutes) and finished the errands I had to do. Of course, I also spent the rest of my time in the car attempting to replicate the wobble, but never managed it (which is probably a good thing). I think it was just a slick patch--it's been very damp and humid all day without actually just raining, so there's a thin film of water on everything, and there's a good chance there was some oil or something on the road there as well.

Anyway, I was fairly productive today. Made huge progress on grad school applications (figuring out deadlines, application fees, and writing my statement of purpose) and an application to do some adjunct teaching over at Seminole State College (assuming they hire me). Also got another couple of weeks of comics scripted (though I've changed the series so much from the original that I've written myself into a bit of a corner and don't know how I'm going to end the current story).

Also picked up a new novel to read called The Ill-Made Mute. Wendy had mentioned it as a book I needed to read back in...oh, February, I guess, and she mentioned it again yesterday when I called to get her mailing address from her. A book (or series, since it's the first of a trilogy) that can not only hold her interest for that long, but actually get her to go out and buy the book (Wendy doesn't buy books very often; in all the years I've known her, I think she's actually purchased a book she was reading maybe five or six times. She usually uses libraries) must be pretty damn good, I figure. Of course, it took me three different bookstores before I finally found the damn thing.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"

"He Moves His Words Like A Prizefighter"

So lately I've started becoming somewhat...dissatisfied with my writing, in terms of comics, prose, and poetry. I guess I just keep thinking of the things I want to do in those various forms, and then see the stuff I'm able to produce, and there's a wee bit of a gap between the two.

The biggest problem I'm having is with my ability to characterize. I know how I want the various characters in Crooked Halo to act and interact, but I don't know that I'm conveying those relationships or personalities very effectively. I fear that the characters come across more as vehicles for a particular gag than living, breathing individuals.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that I have unrealistic expectations for myself. I think that I ought to be able to craft characters who are real in three panels three times a week and still make the overall comic funny, engaging, and entertaining. I know that sort of thing is possible--I see cartoonists do it all the time--but I don't know that it's what I'm doing.

Basically, I want the characters to be as fully-formed in the comics as they are in my head. Moreso, even. I want them to transcend mere labels--Simon as more than the "nice guy," Jerome as more than the "wacky roommate," Wolfgang as more than the "slacker," Andrea as more than "the female character" (God, I've done so little with her! What's wrong with me? Oh yeah, I'm not very good at writing women), Tammy as more than "the succubus/whore." I think Earl is a fairly well-developed character, with specific motivations, purposes, personality, and urges (even if they don't make sense to any sane person). Tim is sketched in broad outlines, but there's a hint of more depth to him, I think. Clyde is...hell, Clyde is my brother, through and through.

I dunno, maybe these are unreasonable concerns or annoyances on my part. Perhaps the characters are better than I think they are. I do think my characterization has gotten stronger as I've done more of the comics (almost 250 since we joined Keenspace). I know several people really enjoy my stuff and really like my characters. I also know a couple of the characters come across (at least at times) as flat, two-dimensional, and even occasionally boring (let's face it--Simon is not the most interesting character, even if he is supposed to be the main character. He's the straight man, the everyman, the one everything happens to but does very little himself. He's the weirdness magnet).

Point is, I want to write the comic (and my short stories and all that) better than I do now. I want my ideas to be fully-formed, total and complete, not just "oh, well, this was the best I could do." I want it better, I want more, and I don't even know how I'm going to manage it.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "I Live For You"

Sunday, January 09, 2005

"Nobody Heard His Dyin' Word"

It's been a pretty lazy day. Woke up around noon, unplugged the ol' cellphone from the charger and turned it on. No sooner had I turned the phone on than it rang. T'was Wendy, replying to my phone message from Friday afternoon. I got off the phone with her, and the apartment line rang. It was mom, checking to see if I was still alive or whatever. Got some information I need from her for the grad school applications (like the phone number to call the GRE folks and request several copies of my GRE scores...which are like $15 per school. Ugh). Just finding a school to attend is really pretty damn expensive, y'know?

Spent most of the afternoon watching the second disc of Blue Seed, 'cause I've been in the mood to watch that series the past few days (finished disc one yesterday). Guess I can start the third disc tonight or tomorrow, depending on what I get accomplished today.

Also took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a bike ride this afternoon. You really couldn't have asked for a nicer day--sunny blue skies, slight breeze to keep the air fresh, perfect temperature (mid-60s). I think I'd just about pop if every day were like this.


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Sleep of the Blessed"

Saturday, January 08, 2005

"Bob Dylan - World Gone Wrong"

In 1992, the sort of album you'd expect from Bob Dylan would've been...well, you probably wouldn't have known what to expect from him. He'd bounced all over the map over the course of his (then) 30 year career, and his previous two or three albums had been no exception--Oh Mercy was a densely-layered atmospheric masterpiece, The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 was a career-spanning best of what never was, and Under the Red Sky was a bizarre, sparse album that bordered on the absurd (Dylan supposedly was writing an album of children's songs there, but that's never been proven).

What you probably wouldn't expect would be an album of voice, guitar and harmonica from the old master. What you'd expect even less would that it was an album made up entirely of covers of traditional folk songs.

But that's exactly what Dylan did in 1992 with Good As I've Been to You. Then he did it again the next year with World Gone Wrong.

World Gone Wrong is an astonishing album. Dylan shakes the weight of years off the songs and his own bones and gives these songs a read that is very traditional but also very Dylan. His whiskey rasp of a voice, his basic but evocative playing style, and his unusual song selection make World Gone Wrong an entertaining album full of discovery.

In a lot of ways, it's interesting how these songs, old as most of them are (all but one are considered "traditional," which means they've been around a damn long time and no one quite remembers who wrote them), still seem fresh and current in Dylan's interpretations. The songs have a timeless quality to them, a sense that they've always existed and will continue to exist after mankind is long since gone. You get the feeling, listening to Dylan and his lived-in voice, that he pulled these songs from the air, from some other plane of existence where they've resided from time out of mind, and that the songs serve as some sort of message from God or the beyond. It's haunting. I'd never heard any of these songs (though I knew of "Stack a Lee"), but they spoke of something primative and basic and fundamental in human experience. They called for your attention from across the years.

A big part of the effectiveness of this album is, of course, due to Dylan's readings of these songs. Song selection was important, but it's Dylan's understanding of the underlying meaning and emotion of each song that really makes this album work. There is a beauty to the simplicity of this record, a sense that these songs could exist in no other way than they do here. And there's a power in that, and a purity, even when the songs are about murders and the collapse of the world and great loss and suffering. Dylan transmutes these songs from a bygone era into something that applies to any time, any place.

World Gone Wrong is the sort of album Dylan's folkie followers of the early '60s always wanted from him. That it comes 25-30 years too late is too bad for them, but at least we still get the benefit of an excellent record full of amazing songs. Definitely worthwhile.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Stack a Lee"

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Those Hollywood Nights"

I have not slept well all week. I don't really know why, though I think it has its root in the evening Ev came over and we chatted until the wee hours of the morning. I've been trying to play catch up ever since then, I guess. But it's starting to cause me a bit of concern. I spend most of each night tossing and turning, unable to slip into deep sleep, unable to really rest for any satisfactory length of time. Hopefully the weekend will rectify that.

But dear Lord, it is already the weekend, isn't it? Hard to believe another week's gone by, and I've done next to nothing during it. Ugh.

The Weekend To Do List:
(1) Grad School Applications (at least two or three)
(2) Job Application for Adjunct Teaching at Seminole State College
(3) Sleep
(4) Script out next couple of weeks of comics
(5) More sleep

I think I can manage all that, don't you?


Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "Moonlight"

Thursday, January 06, 2005

"Everybody Out Of The Water"

Slow day here at work. No one around, boss was supposed to come in but didn't, etc. The weather outside was so cold on the way to work this morning that it actually burned. Breathing was rough and ragged, and my face felt like it was raw and being rubbed with steel wool. Charming, eh?

Lord, I still have another hour of this.

Oh, question for folks, sort of an informal poll--I'm trying to gather a bunch of different people's definitions of "adulthood." What does it mean to be an adult? When do you become an adult, either chronologically or emotionally or mentally or physically or whatever? Just curious what folks think.


Song of the Moment: The Band, "When I Paint My Masterpiece"

"The Land Of Permanent Bliss"

So I was watching Jurassic Park earlier this evening. It's been awhile since I last saw the flick, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it (made me want to re-read the book again, too...for probably about the 20th time. I used to read that book like at least once a month). I'd also forgotten just how impressive the special effects were. Whatever else you can say about the film (and it does have flaws, Lord knows), the special effects are mind blowing. They did things with CGI that no one had even thought possible back in 1993. And the nice thing is that you really cannot tell when they're using a CGI shot and when they're not. It's very seemless. Makes you wonder why more recent films--such as anything Arnold the Governator did after Terminator 2--don't seem to have the same quality. Okay, sure, Jurassic Park made use of Industrial Light & Magic, which is the same thing as playing a game of pickup basketball and having Michael Jordan on your team, but it's still mighty impressive that even ILM could make stuff like that over a decade ago. The quality is almost as good as anything from LOTR.

It is neat to see the way that CGI has developed over the years. Sure, folks like Lucas might overuse it, and it means you occasionally get real stinkers like Troy, but you also get things like Pixar films and Gladiator (where over 2/3 of the gladitorial arena were CGI) and the aforementioned LOTR trilogy. CGI has its place. Speilberg mentioned he thought it was a great tool for allowing filmmakers to tell stories. He thought it would help make things a little easier for filmmakers. And it does. God only knows what we'll be able to do with it in another five or ten years. Hell, even I could probably make lifelike CGI in another decade or so with off the shelf software. I already have more computing power in my current computer than we did in the first PC my family ever owned (way back in the day. Pre-Windows. MS-DOS, baby. And it made us strong. And accurate--you couldn't screw up command lines in DOS, or you paid for it). Technology progresses at an almost alarming rate sometimes, but that also means that sometimes we get the chance to see new and exciting things.

Of course, we're not going to mention what they did with the two Jurassic Park sequels. Hell, I don't even like to remember those movies were made. Sometimes technology is abused.


Song of the Moment: The Band, "Stage Fright"

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

"See That She's Wearing A Coat So Warm"

I don't know what it is about nasty weather, but it always makes me restless. When the weather turns bad--ice, heavy rain, whatever--my first impulse is always to rush out to the car and go for a drive. Not a drive to anywhere in particular, just a drive. Bad weather makes me want to move, whereas in absolutely beautiful weather, I'm content to lounge around the apartment doing nothing all day.

I don't really know why this is. Part of it is just to prove that I am, in fact, capable of driving in adverse conditions. Quite capable, actually. I may have several bad habits as a driver, but I'm a good driver nonetheless. So many people are incapable of driving when things get even a bit icy or wet, don't seem to understand that you might have to take it slower or pay more attention (like not talking on your damn cellphone while you drive), but that it's possible to get around still.

The other part of my desire to drive in the nastiness is freedom. I hate being restricted. When I have no limitations on my ability to get up and go--such as when the weather is perfect--then I don't have to go somewhere, but know that I can if I decide to. But when it turns nasty's like the world is attempting to deny me the freedom to go where I please when I please, and I have to prove it wrong.

The other option is, of course, that I'm just flat-out insane. Batshit crazy. And this is also very likely.

Must go clean the apartment now. Jess & Dom are probably coming over this evening for dinner and stuff, so I ought to at least make an effort to make it look as though I'm not a total slob. Even if I am.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Girl from the North Country"

"Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"

So I think I may've reached some sort of Dylan saturation point last night. After finishing up Chronicles, listening to Dylan albums virtually non-stop for the past three or four days, and wearing one of my Dylan t-shirts yesterday, I think it all finally caused my poor brain to gently snap.

See, I had this weird dream last night. Dylan came into town and chewed out this group of people for things I wish I could recall now. I remember it being something along the lines of Jesus tossing the moneychangers out of the Temple. He was full of fire and vitality and righteous anger, and I recall thinking that whatever he was doing was absolutely correct and right.

Then I woke up around 5.00 to a thunderstorm. In January. Lord, the weather in this state is messed up.

So after all this, my phone ringing at 7.45 this morning seemed almost mundane.

Let's get something straight--I'm not much of a morning person. Oh, I can get up early if I need to, I can even function coherently and act cheerful and stuff. But if I had my preference, I'd sleep late every day and stay up all hours of the night. If the rest of the world functioned on the same time table as I did, I'd be perfectly happy. But I know it won't, so I just have to conform to the world for now.

Anyway, the notion of someone calling me at that hour--especially since I was trying to get ready to go to work--was a little annoying and absurd. But it was mom, making sure I walked to work this morning instead of driving or taking the bike (not that I'd take the bike out if it's raining...especially if it's freezing rain, like what we've got right now). Anyway, she said even though it was just raining at the time, the temperature was dropping rapidly and everything would likely freeze by midday. Well, it is doing the freezing rain thing outside, and I keep remembering that I don't have an umbrella. So yeah, I drove. But I didn't park in the stadium or the parking garage--no, I've learned my lesson with that stuff. Instead, I parked in a parking lot right across the street from the stadium where the convenience store I frequent is located. I don't think anyone will mind today.

One interesting thing my mom mentioned this morning was that Shawnee Public Schools were cancelled for today. Preemptive decision making, I guess, but it's strange for Shawnee to cancel school. They never cancel school. Hell, Jesus Himself could be descending from the clouds shrouded in glory and surrounded by a choir of angels singing His praises, and Shawnee would probably still have classes.

Looking back over that last sentence, there's a good chance I just condemned myself in the hearts and minds of everyone in my hometown. Hurray!


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Bob Dylan's Dream"

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

"Fighting For A Lost Cause"`

Yeah, I gave up on the football game at the end of the third quarter. OU was down 45-10, so there didn't really seem to be any reason to continue listening to the massacre. Honestly, you'd expect the #2 ranked team in the nation, with a former Heisman Trophy winner, to put up more of a fight. To actually play. Admittedly, the other big Oklahoma university, OSU, rolled over in the Alamo Bowl a week ago as well, but you'd think at least one of 'em would actually bother trying.

Funny thing is, I don't even really care about football. It just annoys me that a group of young men who're lionized and held up the way the football team is, who often think that school just gets in the way of their real purpose for being at college (i.e., playing football), would actually try harder. Hell, I think OU may develop a bit of a reputation as a team of choke artists.

On the positive side, I finished Chronicles, Volume 1. Brilliant book. Seeing all the influences that came together to even cause Dylan to start writing was great, and they all seemed to come from some pretty unexpected places (Woody Guthrie was obvious, of course, but Robert Johnson as well, and some song he'd heard in a play called "Pirate Jenny," which showed him the style of narratives he could write). He also compared the folk music scene in New York City, where he'd been living and playing comfortably since he arrived in the city, as Eden. And, just like the biblical paradise, he knew he had to leave it, had to strike out for something else that wasn't perfect. It was an interesting and thought-provoking analogy. Great book. Can't wait for the next volume.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Let Me Die in my Footsteps"

"To Play Tackle Football"

So I'm listening to the OU/USC game on the radio. USC is absolutely punishing the Sooners. Southern Cal is scoring on virtually every possession, OU's quarterback has thrown two interceptions, and USC can apparently do no wrong. Every single play they run works, often with big results (they just got done with a four play, 79 yard drive). It's almost halftime, which Oklahoma really needs for a chance to regroup and get their heads back on straight.

Really kinda depressing, y'know? I'd expect a close game, not a blowout like we're currently looking at (35-10, USC). And apparently OU has just fumbled the ball, and USC recovered. This is not the way this game ought to go at all, regardless of how much I like or dislike OU, football, or OU football.

Dunno if I'll listen to all of the game or not. There are lots of other things I could do finish reading Dylan's Chronicles, which I'm actually almost done with anyway.


Song of the Moment: Jack Johnson, "Mud Football"

"An Old Book In Rainy Weather"

God I was exhausted last night. I dozed off around 7.00 pm or so, woke up around 9.00 from the nap, and drug myself to bed at 9.30. I actually went to bed at 9.30 at night, like I was 12 years old again or something. And I woke up this morning at 7.15 and still looked like hell. My eyes have these wonderful black areas under them that I really can't describe well. It's like I had a pair of black eyes, only the only part that bruised was under the eye. It's bizarre.

It's an exceptionally dreary day today. After all the beautiful weather we had between Christmas and New Year's, it's now in the upper 30's, rainy, and gray. Very gray. It was barely light outside when I left for work at 8.00 this morning. It was still pitch black when I woke up, and that really doesn't bode well psychologically speaking.

Anyway, the Orange Bowl is tonight--OU's big game, the chance to prove the school's football team is better than the other guy. Whatever. I'm not even sure I care enough to watch it. Part of me feels obligated to, since I know so many of these guys, but another part of me is saying, "yeah, but do you really want to watch it? And on your TV, which always picks up stations real fuzzy? Is it really worth it?" To which I think, "probably not."


Song of the Moment: Sting, "Valpariso"

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Bob Dylan - Chronicles, Volume One"

Clif got my Bob Dylan's memoir/autobiography/book thing, Chronicles, Volume One, for Christmas. I've been reading it voraciously over the past few days, and I'm already nearly done. It's a difficult book to put down (Ev came over last night and we chatted until almost 2.30. Then I stayed up for an extra hour or so just reading, even though I had to wake up early this morning and go to work).

The book's structure is confusing at first. Dylan begins with getting signed to Columbia Records, then backtracks to his arrival in New York City, describes his efforts to get into the folk music scene in Greenwich Village and attempting to find his voice; then jumps ahead to late 1969/early 1970 and the recording of New Morning; then he skips ahead to the late '80s and his tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, his rediscovery of a playing style, his discovery of a new singing style, and the results of all that. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the narrative when you look at it that way. Why not the recording of his first few albums? Why not a discussion of his decision to switch to a full electric band in 1965? Why not an examination of his mid-'70s albums, Blood on the Tracks and Desire? I must admit, I was initially baffled.

But this afternoon, I finally started to see the underlying structure and thematic unity of the narrative. I finally see what Dylan's driving at. The whole book has been about his search for his voice, his style, his music. In the first couple of chapters, Dylan describes how he searched and searched for songs to sing, and when he was given the opportunity to inherit dozens of songs from the ailing Woody Guthrie, he turns the offer down and writes his own songs instead. Dylan had some sort of sudden epiphany--he never really gives enough concrete details for you to know what that epiphany was, only tantilizing hints and cryptic allusions--and he knows the elements he wants to include in his own songs. He sees the direction he must take. The chapter on New Morning finds Dylan weary of that direction, listless and uninterested in the music he was creating and making an almost conscious effort to shed his audience. The chapter on Oh Mercy, which I'm in the middle of, finds Dylan realizing he's "over the hill," to use his own phrasing, and feeling like a bit of a washed-out star. By the late '80s, Dylan was ready to throw in the towel--he has no interest in going through the motions anymore, he can't even penetrate his own songs. They held no more meaning for him. Then he had another cryptic epiphany, a sudden spark of understanding about how he ought to perform and what he needed to do. He had renewed interest of a sudden, and was ready to pursue his music again.

This is where I am in the book. It has me enthralled. Seriously, anyone who has even a passing interest in Dylan or his music needs to read this book. It's had me listening to Dylan music virtually non-stop for the past few days.


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

Sunday, January 02, 2005

"John Lennon - Acoustic"

I had high hopes and expectations for this album when I borrowed it for my uncle, even though he warned me not to. If I'd been expecting something revelatory along the lines of any of Dylan's Bootleg Series or even the Beatles Anthologies, I was sorely disappointed. I know it's blasphemy for me to even dare to decry something produced by a member of the Beatles, but I'm afraid that's what it comes down to here--Acoustic isn't worth the money.

What Acoustic is, above all else, is a collection of exceptionally rough demos, outtakes, and odds'n'sods that Yoko Ono found lying around the house one day and decided to toss together to sell. It's something of an effort to capitolize on the fact that some folks will buy anything with a Beatle's name on it. There are a couple of new songs on the CD, but for the most part this is just a bunch of rough versions of songs that sounded much better in the final draft. Take "Cold Turkey," for example--never one of my favorite Lennon songs to begin with, this acoustic guitar version suffers from poor recording quality, shaky performance, and a lack of any significant difference between it and the final take except that the final take had a better sonic quality to it. It's completely unremarkable. The sad fact is that most of the songs we have heard before are presented here in inferior and rougher versions, and nothing new is gained from the newly-released material. "Working Class Hero" is the best example of this problem--it's virutally identical in delivery, instrumentation, and performance to the released version, except that it doesn't sound as good.

The new songs, which include a tune for a jailed stoner ("John Sinclair") and a biting protest song with a humorous chorus ("Luck of the Irish") are decent, but nothing remarkable. "Luck of the Irish" is almost good enough to be a great song, with a wonderfully witty stab at the way the English have treated the Irish and a decent tune, but it's bogged down by poor instrumental accompaniment.

There are two songs which in and of themselves almost make this album worth it--a live guitar version of "Imagine" and the original basic recording of "Real Love," one of the two new Beatles songs from the Anthologies. The former has a great performance from Lennon, and the simple, stripped-down solo acoustic guitar style works really well for a song I've always felt suffered from over-production. "Real Love" is the real treat, though--Lennon alone with a guitar, laying down the basic track and guiding vocal. You get a feel for what he wanted to do with the song (the whistled lead guitar solo he does is wonderful, and Harrison follows it almost exactly with his slide guitar work in the final version on the Anthology). His performance is loose, warm, and almost heartbreakingly beautiful. It's haunting, really. The fact that you have to wait until almost the very end of the CD for these two tracks is frustrating.

Really, the collection is okay. There are some decent tracks here, a few tunes that are rather interesting and manage to hold your interest while they are playing. You can see the glimmer and spark of inspiration in a few of them, but it's so rough and unfinished that it's frustrating. Acoustic ends up a set of small, frugal pleasures, doled out in a miserly fashion that leaves you wishing it offered up more than just a taste of the genius we knew Lennon could be when he wanted.


Song of the Moment: John Lennon, "Real Love"