Monday, February 28, 2005

"Start Your Slavin' Job To Get Your Pay"

Work isn't fun anymore. It's a sad, sad fact, but it's the truth--working at the Writing Center has lost its joy, lost its spark, vim, and vigor.

It's still a great job to have--decent pay, decent hours, and I like the other consultants and my boss. But...well, with all the crap that's going on with the hierarchy here and various problems with my boss's boss, the joy is slowly seeping out of this occupation.

I know that there are some people who would argue that it's a job and thus isn't supposed to fun. But I disagree with that--I don't think there's any point in working a long-term job that you don't like. I've been working here for almost three years, and that seems pretty long-term to me. Personally, I don't think I'd work a job I didn't enjoy for longer than a couple of months. What's the point? If your job makes you miserable, why stay in it? Work won't necessarily always be easy or a barrelful of the proverbial monkeys, but shouldn't you at least enjoy and like what you do for a living?

Well, that's becoming increasingly difficult, given our working environment. Ev compared it to working in a police state, which seems all too accurate. I know that the NCAA has started causing all sorts of problems for schools across the board, tightening up restrictions and regulations, making our lives more difficult. I also know that a few student-athletes have caused us specific trouble, restricting what we're actually able to do with our jobs, and that non-athletes have been coming in causing trouble.

The espirit d'corpse seems to have died, if you'll forgive the pun. This is increasingly merely what I do for a paycheck rather than what I do because it's a wonderful working experience. The fact that such a distinction needs to be made saddens me in indescribable ways.


Song of the Moment: BTO, "Takin' Care of Business"

Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne"

My understanding of alt-country, or "cowpunk" as it is alternately known, comes mostly from listening to the Old 97s. My assumption was that they were pretty indicative of the punk/country combination musical style. Uncle Tupelo proves this assumption wrong.

I think there are basically two approaches to the style now--from the punk/rock side, and from the country side. The Old 97s clearly start with a base of punk and rock and graft country and twange onto that base. They are essentially a pop-rock band with twange, punk rockers playing country like punk rock. Once in awhile, they play a straight country tune or straight pop tune.

On the other side of the equation is Uncle Tupelo, which approaches from the direction of country music with punk aesthetics. Starting from a country base, the members of this band grafted a punk mindset and lyrical themes onto country music, occasionally bursting forth in a punk-like flurry of instrumentation and energy, but they add things like fiddles and pedal steel guitars to the mix.

Anodyne was Uncle Tupelo's fourth and last album, released in 1993. It's the perfect synthesis of classic country & western in the tradition of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylan Jennings, and even folks like Roy Acuff, coupled with a Rolling Stones swagger and CCR gut-bucket stomp rock.

The album opens with a pair of simple country tunes, one from Jay Fararr and the other from Jeff Tweedy. Both are beautiful and spare, relying on minimal but evocative instrumentation (mostly guitars, fiddle, bass, and light percussion). Then the album shifts gears into a pair of excellent rock tunes--Tweedy's "The Long Cut" and a cover tune led by Fararr.

From there, the music just keeps getting better and better, weaving straight country tunes with country-rock. The album was essentially recorded live in the studio with a bare minimum of overdubs, so the instrumentation remains basic. Guitar, bass, and drums make up the primary sonic components, though pedal and lap steel and fiddle are also prominent throughout. The live in the studio tact means that the vocals are sometimes a little too muddled and buried in the mix, but not too deep. The band featured here--led by Tweedy and Fararr--essentially became Wilco after Uncle Tupelo broke up, with Fararr leaving to focus on solo work and a new band, Son Volt. You can hear the beginnings of Wilco in Tweedy's songs on Anodyne. Many of his rockers sound as though they would fit on Wilco's debut, A.M.

The special edition of the album (which is what you'll most likely find in stores anymore) offers a wonderful assortment of added goodies--a brief essay in the booklet talking about the band's evolution and the recording of the album, and a handful of bonus tracks (two live covers, including "Suzi Q" and a Merle Haggard song about Nashville, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?") which are fun and revealing.

Overall, this is a great album. The strength of the country side of the band surprised me at first, but the music is good enough that it transcends genre. Only the best music manages that, and Uncle Tupelo pull the trick off.


Song of the Moment: Uncle Tupelo, "The Long Cut"

Iconoclasm And Browsers

So I switched to Mozilla's Firefox Browser earlier today, on a whim. Dunno what encouraged it (except perhaps for the desire to be able to comment regularly over at Websnark, and since the comment function doesn't support Internet Explorer but does support Firefox, I figured it was worth a shot).

My initial impressions of the browser are that it's pretty nice. It loads pages quickly (and a lot of pages actually look nicer and cleaner in Firefox than they do in IE), it imported my bookmarks from IE automatically, and it's very functional. There's no clutter, no pop-ups, etc.

One of the neatest things--and this is by no means a major feature, but it's one that grabbed my interest--is the website icon thing. Some websites have individual icons that sit next to the address in the address bar (and next to the website name in the bookmarks list). Firefox actually shows these icons (IE would occasionally, but only for a day or so, then it reverted back to the standard IE icon). These are cute, and it's neat to see which websites I frequent have actually bothered to create the special icons. Makes me think Dim Bulb could use one (and an obvious image comes to mind quite readily...need to talk to Monkey about doing that).

Anyway, I'm going to work with this for awhile, see if I like it. Just putzing around with this browser on the internet this afternoon before work was fun, so I think I'll probably use it. There's apparently some function where you can personalize your browser toolbar with backgrounds and stuff (I know IE has been able to do that for awhile, but your choices were rather limited. I want to see just how customizable the option is in Firefox). We'll see what happens.

Oh, review of Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne is forthcoming, since I grabbed that CD yesterday on my way back from the Metropolitan Library's Book Sale.


Song of the Moment: XTC, "Here Comes President Kill Again"

Saturday, February 26, 2005

"When Your Groove Supply Is Running Out"

Went to the Metropolitan Library Book Sale this morning. That thing is wonderful and confusing all at once. Folks line up an hour or two before it starts (I got there at 8.45. They open the doors at 9.30. There were already dozens of people ahead of me in line, all with the bearing of those who had been sitting there for awhile). By the time the doors open, there are several hundred people in the waiting area, all chomping at the bit to get a bunch of old books for 50 cents or a dollar.

Admittedly, it's a great deal. It's hit or miss what you'll find there on a given year, but you can usually find something to make the trip worth your while. I picked up several older novels, including a couple of H.G. Wells' stuff (The Invisible Man and The Time Machine), Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odessey, a Kurt Vonnegut novel, Johnathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. I also grabbed a few history books, but I figure most of you don't care about that.

Talked with dad this morning, and he said he'd buy me a ticket to go see the Wallflowers in Tulsa next month. My concert season is really kicking into high gear, y'know? Tribute 1964 last month, Wallflowers and Mellencamp next month, and possibly Wilco in April. It's amazing that so many decent bands are actually playing in Oklahoma. I, for one, am not going to complain about the good fortune...or the fact that dad keeps paying for my tickets.


Song of the Moment: Uncle Tupelo, "New Madrid"

Friday, February 25, 2005

"Minus 5 - Down With Wilco"

I bought this CD expecting it to be, essentially, a Wilco album with a couple of extra guys involved. In that respect, I was sorely disappointed--this is not a Wilco album, it's a Minus 5 album on which Wilco play most of the instruments. But that's not a bad thing, I discovered, because the Minus 5's Down With Wilco is an album of many pleasures in its own right.

Sonically, the best way to describe Minus 5 is that they're a hybrid of the Beach Boys, Village Green Preservation Society-era Kinks, the Byrds, and Neil Young. The melodies are lilting and infectious, the guitars range from gently-strummed acoustics to chimming twelve strings and Neil Young-esque electrics, and the harmonies sound very much as though the head of this project (a man named Scott McCaughey) has a huge Beach Boy fetish.

And he does--several of the songs display a Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson type of arrangement, utilizing Wilson's modular techniques and a wide range of instrumentation. Wilco provides most of the musicians for the set, but they tend to accomodate rather than forcing him and Peter Buck (of REM, who is also a key figure in this project. A few words about the "group"--it's the side project of Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, and they just have a rotating cast of supporting musicians. This time around, they hooked up with Wilco).

The most entertaining aspect of this record is the loose, free feeling of the music. Everything is tongue-in-cheek, everyone is wearing a smile while they play. You can hear it. There's a feeling of whimsy and playfulness in this record that's usually missing from Wilco's very serious albums. Why Wilco is still a great band (and one of my current favorites, as I might've mentioned), they don't often crack smiles.

All of the tracks on this collection are winners. The opener, "The Days of Wine and Booze," is an ode to loss and regret, a commitment to remember the old times, whether they were good or bad. "Retrieval of You" is a fairly straightforward song on paper--a man who lost the woman he loves because she became a pop star. But with its jaunty tune and laugh-out-loud funny lyrics ("They call me DJ Minimart, 'cause that's where I work"), it rises above its basic premise. "The Town that Lost its Groove Supply" tells you everything you need to know in the title--witty, humorous, bouncy, and just plain fun. "I'm Not Bitter," the most Wilco-sounding track on the collection, has a chanted call-and-response chorus of the phrase "I'm not bitter" over and over again, as though the narrator were trying to convince himself or his audience (you're never sure which). The album closes with "Dear Employer (The Reason I Quit)," a Dear John letter to one's place of employment that is both humorous and bittersweet.

But really, there's not a bad song on the album. McCaughey is an excellent lyricist, and Wilco rises to the occasion musically and vocally. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's frontman, doesn't take lead vocal duties often (only once exclusively, on "Family Gardener"), but provides excellent backing and harmony vocals throughout to McCaughey's lead vocals.

Overall, the Minus 5's Down With Wilco is an excellent, well-crafted album that takes a familiar band and casts them in a slightly different light. The result is one of the more enjoyable and cohesive albums I've listened to in a long time, and that's saying something for a side project.


Song of the Moment: Minus 5, "I'm Not Bitter"

"Pop Singer"

I've noticed an interesting trend in music lately--a proliferation of two-disc greatest hits sets.

It's a fairly recent thing, I think. Traditionally, the greatest hits set was a single disc of the biggest songs by a band. It wasn't unheard of for a band to have a two-disc set--Dylan had one with his Greatest Hits, Volume 2, and the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Anthology set was a two-discer, but the usual thing was a single disc.

But then the Rolling Stones did 40 Licks, their two-disc answer to the Beatles' One. Sure, the Stones had enough great and well-known songs to fill two discs. And two discs makes a lot of sense--you get to dig deeper into a band's catalog, pull out some fan-favorites that maybe folks otherwise wouldn't get to hear. And a bunch of bands jumped on the bandwagon, or at least their record companies did. The Eagles, who already had the best-selling record ever (Greatest Hits 1971-1975, a ten-song set which managed to capture precisely who and what the Eagles were beautifully), issued the two-disc The Very Best, and Pearl Jam's done rearviewmirror, and John Mellencamp recently released his own two-disc set Words and Music. You've also got Columbia's Essentials collection, with folks like Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Clash, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others getting a pair of discs to catalog their musical ovuere (watch as I totally misspell fancy French words! Take that, French language!).

Mind you, these are all excellent sets. Song selection, setlist organization, etc.--you can pop these things in the CD player and be very content.

But let's be honest--do we need a two-disc set of Motley Crue? We just got one a few weeks ago (well, I say "we," by which I mean "the record-buying public." I myself do not own this collection, nor do I have any intention of picking it up. Ever). There's a two-disc Styx set. While I have nothing against Styx, their single-disc best of set--which my dad bought like a decade ago--contains all their vital tracks. The two-disc set is simply extravagant and unnecessary. No one (except my youngest brother) cares about Styx's new albums. Do we need a Creed greatest hits collection of any sort, one disc or two (the answer, of course, is an emphatic "no"--they released all of three albums, and most of the songs on those three albums were dreck and bland post-grunge power-chord pop. Blech)? Stone Temple Pilots might've been worth this sort of expansive collection, or even (though I really don't care for them that much) Nivana. The former was a decent grunge band, much-maligned and pigeonholed as a Pearl Jam doppleganger. And the latter...well, even if they're not my cup of tea, I see how important they were, musically.

Part of me thinks the idea of the two-disc greatest hits compilations is a good thing--we get more music, more bang for our buck. I tend to like to dig into non-single album cuts. My joy at listening to Mellencamp's Words and Music is nigh unbridled. The Eagles' Very Best paints an excellent portrait of the band's body of work, adding some of the stuff they'd done since Greatest Hits, Volume 2 (which isn't much, mind, and it's nowhere near as necessary as their prime work) and a fine selection of album cuts that weren't featured on the band's two earlier compilations. And Pearl Jam's rearviewmirror is an excellent collection that I can't stop listening to, either. The way the two discs are sequenced both chronologically and thematically was perfect, fitting the band to a tee.

But again I say, there are some bands which simply do not need a two-disc set. Motley Crue's one of them. Styx really doesn't need a double-disc set. Aerosmith's put out like three or four different two-disc best of sets in the past couple of years, which really isn't necessary since they all contain essentially the same songs with only a couple of minor variations.

By the opposite token, there are several bands I'd like to see get the two-disc treatment. Van Morrison needs a good, comprehensive two-disc set. George Harrison deserves such a set (it'd match the excellent Wingspan McCartney put out a few years back chronicling the best of his solo and Wings work). Eric Clapton needs a good two-disc set chronicling his career from the early blues years to the present. A career-spanning two-discer from REM would be nice, too (though In Time did a fine job of chronicling their major-label work to date). The Flaming Lips really need something that gives a coherent portrait of the band's evolution and development.

Admittedly, the two-disc sets are not a truly new development. But the sheer number of them coming out now--especially with the way Columbia churns out the Essential almost feel saturated by the amount of two-disc sets available for bands that maybe only had a couple of songs worth listening to.

What I really dread is the day we get a two-disc best of set for a boy band. Then I shall weep uncontrollably, like a small child with a skinned knee.


Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "The Last Resort"

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Rain On The Scarecrow"

Well, went up to Stillwater this afternoon. Turns out half the trip was wasted--OSU doesn't have a history program that really fits my needs or desires. The guy I talked to was nice and very honest, and I was glad he took time out of his schedule to chat with me, even if I'm not actually going to apply to his school.

The other half of the trip, though, the part about me meeting up with my grandparents for dinner and the like, was well-spent. We ate at Eskimo Joe's, where I got the cheesefries I've been craving all week. After we ate, we putzed around Stillwater for a bit, visiting JC Penny's (but finding nothing) and then Wal-Mart (where I found a new wristwatch to replace my sadly-dying old Timex Ironman. It lived up to its name--it lasted for about seven or eight years, and the display is just finally starting to go. Considering how hard I was on that thing, it's amazing it lasted so long. Very sturdy. Ol' Faithful shall be missed. Crap, I just eulogized a wristwatch, didn't I?). My grandmother also had a couple of things for me she'd brought with her--a few articles of clothing she thought I'd like (a couple of long-sleeved button-up shirts for work, and a nice fleecy jacket thing) and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I loves me some home-baked chocolate chip cookies (doing my best to make sure they last longer than the night. It's not easy).

Anyway, getting to see them was good, and the break in my routine was nice as well. I hadn't realized how much of a rut I was in here in Norman until I left for an afternoon like this. Sure, I've gone home and to my aunt & uncle's place a few times, but I've mostly just worn paths between my apartment, work, and the two or three stores I tend to visit for stuff (Wal-Mart, Hastings, Best Buy, Borders). Life's become frighteningly predictable. I needed to shake things up a bit, and an afternoon trip out of town--even if it didn't accomplish its primary goal--was still a good way to break up the monotony. Of course, it also just made me realize how much I want to take a long trip to Arkansas or Virginia.


Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "One of These Nights"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"And In The End"

So Queen of Wands, one of the webcomics I really enjoy, ended it's run today.

It was a planned ending. The young lady who writes and draws the comic, Aerie, had it set up for quite some time. She's been tying up loose ends, ending plots, and generally prepping the characters (and the audience) for its denoumont.

Now, there are lots of other people who can wax poetic about the end of the strip and be far more eloquent than I. I'm sad to see the comic end; it was consistantly well-written, and Aerie was unafraid to put her characters through the ringer and see what happened. She let the characters grow, change, and evolve, just as real people would do.

I know she's got another project in the works. I'm excited about that. I have no idea what it'll be, whether the humor or the style will be anything like QoW or not, but I look forward to seeing what else Aerie will do with comics. I'm sad to see QoW end, just as I'm sad to see most anything end (except Creed. I danced a jig the day that noise pollution died). Endings always make me a little sad, because there's the knowledge that, while these characters may continue on in life, doing things and growing, I won't be able to watch it happen. The characters Aerie created, the world they exist in, continues on. The people change, grow, develop, meet, part, and generally live as people do. We just don't get to watch it happen anymore.

In less depressing news, ClanBOB is bringing back Life of Riley. This makes me happy. Very happy. Their websit went down over a year ago for reasons that were never entirely clear, and when it came back up a month or so ago, they said they weren't going to bring back LoR immediately. Well, apparently they're ready now, which is good--they sorta left us with a cliffhanger when the site went down, and I want to see what happens next.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "The End"

"Half A Mile From The County Fair, And The Rain Came Pouring Down"

Oklahoma weather--it's been beautiful for the past several days, with warm temperatures, sunshine, and a general feeling that spring was showing up early. Now it's thundering and lightning outside, starting to rain, and tomorrow is supposed to be nasty and wet all day. My car was clean, the past tense verb being the key in that statement.

Picked up Mellencamp tickets this afternoon. We have floor seats, which was pretty cool considering the tickets were only $40 each after all the handling fees were added (stupid handling fees). I think we paid twice that per ticket for Clapton. Mellencamp apparently has a history of trying to keep his ticket prices down, though. He's kinda like Tom Petty or Pearl Jam that way, I guess. I'm really looking forward to the show. Still contemplating the Wallflowers up in Tulsa on the 16th, though. That'd be a great show to see, especially since they've got a new album in the works and might very well preview a few of the songs from it. Mmm, new songs...

Anyway, I'm shutting the computer off. No reason to let it get zapped by the damn weather just 'cause I'm too lazy to shut the thing down, right?


Song of the Moment: Regular Joes, "Restless"

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"There Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me"

I keep having this urge to do a massive research project while I'm still here in Oklahoma. I came up with the idea about four or five years ago, 'round about the time my great-grandfather died. See, I always knew both of my grandfathers were storytellers. They'll sit and tell stories from their childhood for hours on end. And it's fascinating, both as a descendent from these people and as a historian, to hear these stories, to see where my family came from and what made it what it is today. To see them rising above the adversity of things like the Great Depression and the Second World War and become something significant and grand. And it hit me--I should gather these stories. I should write this stuff down. It's important not only as a personal artifact, but as a historical one. Other people could benefit from hearing the lives my grandparents led.

So I decided--I need to sit down with each of my grandparents, one at a time, set up a tape recorder, and get them to tell me their life stories. I want to know everything they can possibly tell me--friends, family, childhood memories, hopes and dreams and obstacles and hurdles. I want to know what makes the members of my family tick. I want them recorded in posterity, their lives etched into the pages of a book for all the world to know and enjoy and learn from. I think their lives have that kind of power, really.

So here's my plan--first, find a tape recorder. I think we've got one at home, so that should be pretty easy. Second, set aside a weekend or two to sit down with each grandparent and interview them. It'll take quite awhile, especially with my grandfathers, because they tend to ramble. I'll have to keep them focused. After I have all this data, I have to sit down and comb through it, create a coherent narrative, and write it.

I wish I'd thought to do this--or had been of an age where I was capable of it--when all of my great-grandparents were still alive. Ah, the stories they could have told. They were alive from the turn of the 20th century, some even earlier, and it would have been wonderful to hear their stories. Unfortunately, the only great-grandparent even still alive at a time when I could have even possibly started this project was my great-grandfather Theral, aka Ol' Pa, who died when I was like a junior in college.

But I want to do this. I want to do this research this semester. I want to hear their stories, record them, and preserve them. I mean, my kids and grandkids, if no one else, would be able to appreciate where and who we came from. It's important.


Song of the Moment: Clearlake, "Something to Look Forward To"

Monday, February 21, 2005

"Just A Little Something To Look Forward To"

I have this overwhelming urge to listen to a CD I have by a band called Clearlake. I picked up the CD while I was in England a few years back. It was on a whim--I wanted a British CD that I wouldn't be able to find anywhere in the US (in hindsight, part of me wishes I'd picked up the two-part "Pyramid Song" single by Radiohead, since it came out like the day before we left. But I have trouble spending like six or seven dollars on three songs. I'm weird like that). So I found this Clearlake CD in one of those "featured local artist" things (even though I was in London and the band was from Bristol, I think. But I digress).

Anyway, the CD is pretty standard Britpop, very melodic and subdued and somber. There are a couple of chugging, chunky rockers on the album (which is called Lido, in case you were curious), and it's a decent enough CD, I guess. A little too studied and meloncholy for my usual tastes, but it's got some interesting (and very British) lyrics, a couple of nice guitar hooks, and it's enjoyable overall.

And for some reason, I just really want to listen to that CD tonight. I've been listening to John Mellencamp for the past two or three days, which is an exceptionally different style of music when you get right down to it. No idea why I want to listen to Clearlake at this moment, but I guess I'll do that when I get home. Makes as much sense as anything I do, really.


Song of the Moment: Clearlake, "Don't Let the Cold In"

"The Gypsy Flies From Coast To Coast"

A eulogy for Hunter S., probably more apporpriate than the one I wrote earlier, and an indictment of the Beats. I just posted the first bit in Monica's Live Journal, but feel it bore repeating and expanding here:
I was thinking about Kerouac the other day, and realized he really had it
all wrong. You look at On the Road. You look at where he found his true
happiness--among the migrant workers in Mexico. You ever actually talk to one of
those migrant works, though? They're miserable. They're scraping by on pennies a
day, poor and hungry and discontent and unable to do anything about it. Their
existence wasn't bliss, it was sadness.

In a way, then, I think the Beats were all sorta charlatans. They provided
us with this glimpse of an utopia that does not and cannot exist. They might've
been seekers, but they were really more escapists than anything else. They
weren't really looking for something, they were running away from something
else. Rather than trying to change the world we live in, they sought a separate
world where they could hide from reality. And it tore them apart, mentally and
emotionally. It wrecked them, leaving their savaged carcases scattered down the
highway. And it depresses me to realize that, really. You hope and hope that
maybe they'd actually latched on to some sort of truth, that they'd figured
something out that the rest of us hadn't. But that wasn't the case.
Part of me wants to be able to respect the Beats. But another part of me realizes what fakes they were, in a sense. They were afraid. Hunter S. was at least honest about this fear, expressing it in manic fits of booze, drugs, and insane stories that were all too true. I mean, this is the lunatic who went and lived with the Hells Angels for awhile as a sociological experiment. He got six kinds of crap beat out of him in the end, but he was honest about what and who he was. But you look at the Beats--Kerouac, Ginsberg, the rest of them...all pretending to be geniuses when they were really just sad, confused, messed up people trying to make sense of who and what they were and failing in a very real way. Thompson was aware of this failure, saw it as a huge cosmic joke, and embraced it as fully as one could. He knew the Beats weren't people to idolize or immulate. He saw through them, and hoped people would be intelligent enough to see through him as well. He wanted people to be able to see through all of the fakers--through the politicians, the media, the guy who lives next door to you--and recognize that none of them knows what the hell they're doing, none of them can or should tell you how to think or feel or believe. Thompson got it. Dylan got it, too. He didn't want to be anyone's spokesman, didn't want to repeat the same mistakes. He didn't have the answers, didn't want to tell folks how to think. He got it. "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," Dylan sang, and it's true--you can figure things out without having to have someone tell you what to think all the time.

And that's why it's tragic that Thompson is gone--he was a raving lunatic, and he was full of shit, but he knew he was full of shit and he wanted you to see that everyone else was, too. The government is, the media is, the big businesses and the machines are all chock-full of shit. We need folks like him to wake everyone up, to shock folks into recognition.

"We Can't Stop Here! This Is Bat Country!"

Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, died over the weekend. Apparently the 67 year old took his own life with a gun.

It's hard to imagine that such an important figure in fringe and pop culture is gone, y'know? I think I know why he did it (Thompson was a very vocal opponent of Dubya, not to mention the fact that he probably had enough alcohol and other drugs in his system over the years to take down a large elephant), but it still doesn't explain why he didn't feel he could hang around and help warp another generation to think outside of whatever little box we let ourselves get trapped inside.

Really, it's just hard to imagine that such a hard-living individual would go that way, y'know? I figured he'd be face down in a pool of his own bodily fluids in the bathroom after a weeklong bender. Guess not, though. I mean, sure, probably face down in a pool of his own blood, and I can't make any sort of statement about the drug content of his bloodstream at the time, but still...just doesn't seem right.

So in his honor, go watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or something. Then go watch Grease, 'cause apparently Sandra Dee (mentioned in one of the songs) capped it over the weekend, too (special thanks to the Monkey for pointing out my earlier error. Apparently Olivia Newton-John is still alive and well, dammit).


Song of the Moment: John Mellencamp, "Get a Leg Up"

Sunday, February 20, 2005

"Dreams Die Hard And We Watch Them Erode"

So I went home yesterday to watch Clif and Scott play in their alumni soccer game. That was a pretty embarrassing display, I thought. I mean, they lost 8-2. Pathetic.

Also got a bunch of songs to play. Dad got several new songbooks (ELO, John Mellencamp, and Bob Seger), and Clif was kind enough to bring home several of the books he had (Dylan, George Harrison, the Beatles, and Tom Petty), so I had lots to choose from. Clif sent his four books with me, and I got photocopies of stuff from the three dad had picked up (and then Clif took those three books back to Arkansas with him). Found out I can play Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll," which is pretty cool (admittedly, it's only G, D, and C, so it wasn't particularly tough to learn).

The one annoying thing about the weekend was that my dad decided to be the destroyer of dreams. He went on a good thirty minute rant about how I was focusing too narrowly on what I wanted, that I needed to broaden my area of focus, be more open to different possibilities, and give up on getting into a top school and just settle for whatever will accept me, because a PhD is a PhD and just having one will be good enough to get me a job. Trying to explain academic politics to my father is like trying to explain computer graphics to a caveman--there's simply no understanding, and it has absolutely no bearing on his existence.

The problem is really that, despite what my father thinks, a PhD does not automatically guarantee me a job when I graduate. There's a glut of PhDs out there, too many to really count anymore. For every job that opens up, there are hundreds of people applying. The competition is heavy. He doesn't really understand why the school I get the PhD from is so important. I'm hoping I can explain it to him, make him understand why it's important to go to a top-notch school, but I have very little faith that he'll actually listen. He's hasn't the past four or five times I've tried, so why would he now?

Beyond that, it was a good weekend. Got fed, got my car washed and cleaned up beauitfully (so now it can rain again), and visited with the siblings. Also went over Clif's Senior Seminar paper with him, which went well.

Concert news: got cash from dad to get the John Mellencamp tickets, so that's aces. He also mentioned that the Wallflowers are playing up in Tulsa sometime in April (he thinks it's April). That makes me feel giddy and gooey in ways I really can't discuss in polite company.


Song of the Moment: Bob Seger, "The Fire Inside"

Saturday, February 19, 2005

"Relax, We Understand J00"

So I picked up Megatokyo, Volume 3 yesterday at Hastings. For those of you somehow not in the know, Megatokyo is one of the most popular webcomics around. Its fanbase can be pretty rabid, but so can its detractors.

I know a lot of people have complained that Megatokyo has gone downhill since one of the co-creators, Largo (aka Rodney Caston), left the project and Piro (aka Fred Gallagher) took complete control. The tug between their two world views--Largo's bizarre, blow-everything-up-that-moves-while-speaking-l33t attitude and Piro's wishy-washy, shoujo-manga-esque approach to life--provided an interesting dichotomy that gave the early strips life, energy, and a sense of completeness. Piro has tried to keep some of the Largo element in the comic since then (after all, the Largo character is still in the comic, though he seems different from before), but the tonal shift in the comic is obvious: Piro is turning it into a comic about relationships, essentially.

Which is fine, really. The tonal shift was pretty gradual, and Piro makes an effort to throw some funny in there every once in awhile. But I think Eric Burns over at Websnark had a point: Piro's pacing is awful. And it's not just that there are filler days almost as often as there are new comics. No, even when new comics pop up, the story doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Which is to say that I was surprised by the fact that the story actually seemed to move in the printed version, where you have a couple of chapters collected together all at once and without the filler in between strips. There was plot and character development, things happened, and the story gelled in a way it's never really done online.

All of which leads me to believe that Megatokyo is, really, a strip or story better suited to the printed book format rather than the page-a-day internet format. You can't notice the plot movement when you take it one strip at a time. But altogether, with nothing in between to break up the flow of the comic--it works. Quite well.

So I'll stick it out with Megatokyo, I think. Seeing the improvement brought about by the printed version gives me a bit more faith in Piro's abilities as a storyteller. I may miss the days of Largo playing Mortal Kombat to get into Japan, but the story we have now is still pretty interesting.


Song of the Moment: Minus 5, "Days of Wine and Booze"

"The Wind In My Hair"

Ev's party went well. We had fun, we had cake, we sorta mellowed while watching the Joseph Campbell interview. It was groovy.

On the music front, I found out today (while cruising Rolling Stone online, as per usual) that the Wallflowers have a new album coming out in May. I swear--the Gorillaz, Bruce Springsteen, and now the Wallflowers--if Bob Dylan and Counting Crows put out an album this year, I think I might pop with pure musical joy.

Have to head home tomorrow. This usually means "laundry," but that will not be the case this time--no, I've already done virtually all of my laundry here. Dangit. I need to plan my clean clothes outages better, I guess.


Song of the Moment: Wallflowers, "Feels Like Summer Again"

Friday, February 18, 2005

"High Water Everywhere"

Well kids, it's finally Friday, and I have the Writing Center to myself this early morning. I knew my boss wasn't coming in today, but I keep forgetting that we've only got one consultant per shift on Fridays (so I have the morning, and Lindsay has the afternoon). Oh well. Only one appointment scheduled during my shift, and he's a pretty good kid, so I'm not worried.

Got my pay voucher this morning when I came into work, and damn does it look nice. Maxed out hours and my pay raise showed up on it. This makes me a happy Chuck.

Also called up Housing this morning. All I have to do to keep from getting kicked out of the apartment is to take a letter from my boss saying that, yes, I am an employee here. Just seems like an enormous hassle to me, but I guess I understand they can't just take my word for it. Damn bureaucracy. If this were Ozarks, this'd be much easier--I'd just call up the president of the university and ask him to help me out, 'cause he's a damn fine individual like that.

Anyway, after work I have to go pick up my paycheck, run a couple of errands (including grabbing a birthday cake for Ev), and get back to my apartment pronto for Ev's birthday party (we're having it at my place, 'cause I have a DVD player and more room). Should be an entertaining if low-key event, but that's fine by me.


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

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"If That's Movin' Up Then I'm Movin' Out"

So after waking up from my (too long) nap, I decided to go out and check the mail. To my surprise and slight concern, there was a letter in there from OU Housing. Now, I know my rent is paid in full, I don't owe any money to the university at the moment at all (which is bizarre and not something I'm used to).

Well, turns out my concern should've been more than slight--the letter was telling me that, since I'm no longer a student, I have to be out of the apartment by March 18.

So this has me worried and slightly pissed. I know staff and faculty are allowed to live in these apartments; Ev did it for about a year or so. And sure enough, part of the letter mentions that if I'm staff or faculty, I just need to call and get them to change their records. It just annoys me that I have to contend with this in the first place, or that they couldn't have phrased the letter better. But no, I don't expect logic from OU anymore (hell, that I expected logic from them in the first place is probably a sign of exceptional naivite).

Anyway, that just annoyed me. One more reason to get the hell out of here as soon as possible.


Song of the Moment: Billy Joel, "Anthony's Song (Movin' Out)"


So while I was waiting for my laundry to dry last night, I decided to go to Sonic and grab a slush (I mean, no soda pop still, y'know? So I gotta drink something with a little flavor to it, and one could do a lot worse than a Sonic drink). Anyway, the girl brings my drink out to the car, and it turns out to be a friend of mine, Libbie Okey.

Now, I haven't seen her in almost a freakin' year. She's doing theatre at OU, which means she's pretty damn busy usually (she said she was in three shows last semester, which is like, damn). Add to that her job, and it's no small wonder I never saw the pint-sized vixen.

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes (as long as she was able, considering that she was working and all), I got her phone numbers and days off, and I headed off to get my laundry. It was one of those completely random but very appreciated chance meetings, and it really put a wonderful spin on the day.


Song of the Moment: David Gray, "Red Moon"

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"R-O-C-K In The USA"

Today is just a day for rock news, y'know?

Just got off the phone with my dad, who tells me that John Mellencamp (along with opener Donovan, aka "Dylan Lite") will be in OKC on March 29th. Then he says the magic words--"You want to go? I'll pay." And hey, I'm game. So I need to call up the Ford Center (where the concert will be) tomorrow and find out ticket info (price, payment methods, etc.).

In other, sorta related news, my earphones died today. And I haven't even had these a year, I don't think. It annoys me that the damn things don't last any longer than that. I mean, those were $20. Twenty bucks. I'm poor, that's a lot of money.


Song of the Moment: The Hollies, "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"

"It's The Music That We Choose"

So I was puttering around the Rolling Stone Magazine website a bit ago, and noticed two tidbits that caught my attention and made me grin:

First, Bruce Springsteen has a new album coming out in April. Given that his last record, The Rising, was such a phenomenal album (and one which touched upon post-9/11 America in a way that most rockers could never manage), it'll be interesting to see how he's reacted to life in America in the two and a half years since.

The other tidbit--which was almost more exciting--is that the Gorillaz are finally going to release a new album in May. I loves me some Gorillaz. I mean, let's think about it--they released their self-titled in 2001, followed by the b-sides collection G-Sides in 2002 and the remix collection Laika Come Home that same year, it's been awhile since we saw fresh material from the animated hip-hoppers.


Song of the Moment: Gorillaz, "19-2000"

"So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star?"

Yesterday was a day of connecting with old friends. I got to speak with Amanda E. on the telephone and a couple of other Ozarks friends via the internet. It was good; I'd almost forgotten how much I like having my friends to talk to.

Also spent last night hanging out with Jess & Dom. They brought Sonic burgers and we watched The Neverending Story, which was much cooler when I was 10, I think. Still an interesting movie (and the idea of an "Ivory Tower" in connection with education and imagination had me in giggles), but you can tell it was made in the '80s. And by Germans, no less. Dear God, it's like the entire soundtrack was done by Kraftwerk.

Today's been kinda crappy, though. I accidentally overslept because I set my alarm for PM rather than AM, and only woke up because my aunt happened to call. So I was about an hour and a half late for work, which my boss doesn't mind too much but annoys the hell out of me. I like being on time, oddly enough. I may not be the most self-motivated or orderly person in the world, but my parents drilled into my head at an early age that it's better to be early to an appointment or engagement than late. Of course, having so many female friends, I've learned the exact opposite--if you show up early, they won't be ready. If you show up late, they won't be done, either, but at least you won't have to sit around thumb twiddling for as long.

Apparently we're going to start using some new computer program at work that analyzes students' papers and checks for plagiarism. On a whim, we decided to test the program by plugging my Master's Thesis into it. We did that like half an hour ago, and it still hasn't come up with the results. I think we confounded it by using my paper, since most of my sources are fairly esoteric (and none of 'em come from the internet! Booya!).

I'm ready for the day to be over. I have to do laundry tonight, lest I run out of shirts to wear, but I really don't want to have to do the crap. Ah well.


Song of the Moment: Cake, "Friend is a Four-Letter Word"

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Good Day Sunshine"

It's been a fairly busy day here at work. When I haven't been helping students with various stuff, I've been finishing up my editing on Clif's Senior Seminar paper or drawing tomorrow's comic.

I've actually reached a bit of a problem with the story for the comic, actually--I know a couple of things I need to do, but I'm not sure how to make them all that funny or how to tell them given the point of view I've established for the narrator (i.e., Simon). I mean, there's stuff that's revealed that Simon doesn't know (in fact, it sorta hinges on him not knowing), but it's kinda important to understand how the dynamic that exists in the comic works in the current time. That all sounds really vague, but there's really no other way to say what I'm trying to say.

Anyway, I need to figure out how to make the rest of the narrative work without falling back on cheap tricks and mediocre storytelling. The other problem is that I really don't know how to end the story. That's kind of a problem, really.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Secret of the Sea"

"Here Comes The Flood"

Just posted a new short story called "Rain" over at the Live Journal. I recommend checking it out. It was something of a stylistic exercise, but I think it came out pretty well.


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Professional Victim (Demo Version)"

Monday, February 14, 2005

"Losers: The Soundtrack, Volume 2"

Today has been an absolutely beautiful day. The weather was perfect--warm, sunny, just a little too breezy perhaps. Managed to get my lunch for free, which I thought was cool (got some cheese bread from Little Caesars--apparently they dropped the first batch on the floor, so they had to redo it. The manager decided that, since I had to wait an extra ten minutes for my food, I should get it for free. That was cool). Also went joggging for the first time in like three months. Hurt like hell, but felt good at the same time.

Anyway, as is my wont on this day, I have compiled a list of songs which are...appropriate, for a given value of the term. Each song was hand-picked for its applicability to being single on this most annoying of holidays. So, without further ado, here's the second volume of Losers: The Soundtrack.

1. Moxy Fruvous - "Losers." A nine second burst of stage chatter wherein one of the Fruvous boys asks the audience how many of them like losers.
2. Flaming Lips - "Fight Test." One of the most heartfelt and bittersweet songs about a guy who shoulda beat the crap out of the other suitor ever.
3. Reel Big Fish - "Dateless Losers." An unbeat, fairly self-explanatory song about geeks who just want to be loved.
4. Santana - "Evil Ways." Y'know, sometimes you just run across a woman who burns you no matter what.
5. Old 97s - "Four Leaf Clover." A litany of things that ought to be lucky--a four leaf clover, a silver dollar, and a horseshoe--that don't bring the singer what he really wants: the girl's love.
6. Dashboard Confessional - "Again I go Unnoticed." Whiney "why won't she pay attention to me" lyrics against a wash of quickly-strummed acoustic guitars. I used to write poetry like this--when I was 15.
7. Puddle of Mudd - "She Hates Me." One of those, "wait, I've been screwed over" songs. Kinda crass and chauvanistic, but fun nonetheless.
8. They Might be Giants - "Lucky Ball and Chain." Typical TMBG greatness. Witty, wry, and heartfelt, it's a great song about the one who went away, leaving you to sit on a barstool and mope.
9. The Beatles - "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party." The Beatles at their most Dylanesque. A wonderfully meloncholy tune about losing the girl you love.
10. Switchfoot - "The Loser." Goodtime power-pop fun. It's like, pop-rock. Yeah (lemme alone, I haven't actually listened to the song in awhile).
11. Cars - "My Best Friend's Girl." One of the best '80s songs out there, a street corner lament over a lost love now going out with one's best friend.
12. Less Than Jake - "Jen Doesn't Like me Anymore." Pop-punk tune about a girl's fickle feelings.
13. Barenaked Ladies - "Blame it on Me." Typical BNL love song about the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. And it features one of the coolest lines ever: "You think you're so smart, but I've seen you naked/And I'll probably see you naked again."
14. Electric Light Orchestra - "Evil Woman." This song is what ELO was all about: the strings, the harmonies, and the catch chorus. And the theme? Likewise a classic: the woman's done him wrong, he warns her that someday all her evil deeds will come back to haunt her.
15. David Gray - "What am I Doing Wrong?" The nice guy's lament. A beautiful circular guitar figure highlights this excellent, plaintive number from Gray's Sell, Sell, Sell album.
16. The Offspring - "She's Got Issues." It's the Offspring. If you've heard one of their songs, you've really heard all of them, but this one is still fun in a mean-spirited sort of way. Which, y'know, if you're depressed or angry or whatever, is probably okay.
17. Glen Phillips - "Professional Victim." An excellent song about the bad habit some people have of always playing the victim in a relationship. For fun, the demo version of the song (which has a big more energy than the album version) is worth a listen.
18. Vertical Horizon - "Everything You Want." I know no one listens to pop-rock from the late '90s anymore, but hey, the song really fit. I mean, it's all about a girl not recognizing the good thing she has right in front of her.
19. Wilco - "Should've Been in Love." A wistful, regret-filled tune from A.M. Whether it's a lament for the singer's missed opportunities or a rebuke to a friend is unclear, but the ambiguity is half the fun.
20. Jack Johnson - "Flake." Features some beautiful slide guitar work from Ben Harper and another great line: "It seems to me that 'maybe' pretty much always means 'no'/So don't tell me you might just let it go." Sad and uplifting all at once.
21. Ben Folds (featuring William Shatner) - "In Love." A rather bizarre choice, it would seem, until you understand that this is Bill Shatner hamming it up on purpose, and the lyrics are pure gold--lines about how all men are the same, we're all trained from puberty to be lying and fickle. It's a hilarious plotting of a doomed relationship that keeps you smirking in the way that only a Ben Folds song can.

There you have it. While I may not be as bitter about being single as I once was, I still find humor in coming up with these set lists. And let's face it--heartbreak and loneliness have made for some of the best music out there, but in terms of pure emotion and in terms of snarky, smirking, smart-ass pop. Both are worthwhile, and there's a healthy dose of each on this set. Happy Valentine's Day, folks.


Song of the Moment: ELO, "Evil Woman"

"I Find My Brother In There"

So I got a call from Scott this evening. He wanted my opinion on which videogame he ought to play next (why he thinks I know what game he wants to play is beyond me). A call from one sibling usually heralds a call from the other, and sure enough, not fifteen minutes later, Clif called. He and I chatted about various things (school, music, and politics, mostly) for about 45 mintues or so, which was cool.

Work was pretty quiet tonight, which was nice. I brought my boombox and some CDs with me, so we got to kick back and enjoy some tunes for the 8 hours we were there. I'd try that again tomorrow, except that I doubt my boss would be too enamoured of Bob Dylan or Wilco, and it's really tough to carry the boombox on the bike.

Tomorrow is, of course, the Hallmark Holiday. Ev keeps telling me that the day actually has some real significance, but that's been buried beneath all the crap that today's consumer culture has built up around it. Stupid consumer culture.

Tomorrow also happens to be Ev's birthday. Out of respect for the elderly, I won't say how old he is. We'll just say he's one year closer to Senior Citizen's discount and leave it at that. :)


Song of the Moment: Blur, "Parklife"

Sunday, February 13, 2005

"Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue, Volume II"

Volume II picks up right where the first volume left off. Stylistically, there's really no difference between this album and the first one--lots of strummed guitars, a country-rock vibe, and wry, intelligent lyrics. The Guthrie lyrics for this album feel more political and vitrolic than the first time around, probably purposely so.

Both Bragg and Wilco are in fine form throughout, providing a wonderful collection of tunes to go along with Guthrie's lyrics. Wilco's performances are especially worthwhile this time around, specifically on the opener, "Airline to Heaven" and the closer, "Somebody Some Morning Sometime." The former sounds like a gospel tent revival rave up, and the latter is a beautiful, meloncholy meditation on love and mortality.

The heart of the album is another Wilco-led tune, "Remember the Mountain Bed," a beautiful, winding narrative. Among the other highlights are the Bragg tune "My Flying Saucer" (a goofy and lighthearted song about a man begging to be abducted), the snarling "All You Fascists," and the George Harrison-esque "Secret of the Sea." Really, the entire album is worthwhile, and flows better than the first record did. It seems much shorter than it is, each song flitting past, leaving a tantilizing trail of images and sounds.

Really, this disc is every bit as enjoyable as the first Mermaid Avenue record. Wilco's voice seems stronger on this outing, which is either better or worse depending on your opinion of their work. Overall, this is highly recommended as one of the most entertaining, energetic, and enlightening collections of the past several years.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg & Wilco, "All You Fascists"

"See You, Space Samurai"

I have to admit--when it comes to anime, Shinichiro Wantanabe has an unerring sense of cool. He's the guy who did some work on Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, a couple of the episodes on the Animatrix, and Samurai Champloo. For the purpose of this analysis, we're concerned with Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.

Cowboy Bebop is one of the best animes of the past decade or so, hands-down. In terms of art, style, characters, and stories, it's top-notch. To sum, it's the story of a small band of bounty hunters who roam the galaxy looking for big bounties and a place to fit in. Generally, they don't find either one. Samurai Champloo, Wantanabe's most recent work (only the first volume of it has been officially released here in the US), concerns itself with two vagabond samurai in feudal Japan and the young woman who has asked their help in finding a samurai who "smells of sunflowers." The characters have no affection or connection to each other, they are simply thrust into one another's company by chance and happenstance.

The two series have this in common--the main characters are roamers, people without a home or a community, and they exist outside of societal norms. This seems to be a recurring theme with Wantanabe's work--characters who exist on the fringes, who don't belong. These are sympathetic characters only because they are the main characters. Were they secondary characters that we didn't invest a lot of time and plot in, we'd probably not care two bits for them. But since we grow attached to them, we feel bad for Spike when the Syndicate catches up with him. We feel Faye's pain when she realizes her past, even as she reclaims it, is gone forever and can never be truly recaptured. These characters roam around, searching for a place to belong, and they never find it. At one point in Cowboy Bebop, Faye even articulates this idea when she tells Ed that having a place to belong is the best feeling in the world. It's what drives the crew of the Bebop together--the need to belong, even if it's to a collective as eclectic and diverse as the group of bounty hunters.

Samurai Champloo is a little more difficult to parse out yet. The two main male characters, Mugen and Jin, seem to hate each other, and they'll attack one another at a moment's notice. But they are bound up by their predicament--fomented by Fuu, the female character who brings them all together in the first place--and perhaps enjoy the company of another human being who walks a similar path, even if they are polar opposites when it comes to personality.

Additionally, none of the characters in either anime seem to have what the Russians call sobornost--a sense of organic or communal togetherness. In Russian literature, those characters who possess sobornost thrive and achieve their goals, survive the end of the book, and prosper beyond their initial position. Those without fall, fail, and usually end up throwing themselves under a train or something similar.

Wantanabe seems fascinated with the ideas of people who live on the edges, beyond the norms. Spike and Faye from Cowboy Bebop are the prime examples. Spike sees everything that happens around him as a dream that he can't wake up from; he has been dead ever since he left his community in the Syndicate. Faye is literally without a past, an amnesiac with a sizeable debt due to medical bills for operations she never knew she had or had the chance to say yes or no to. These two characters especially of the Bebop are people without ties, or people who have chosen to cut their ties to the past for whatever reasons. But their communities keep coming back to haunt them--Spike keeps getting involved in affairs of the Syndicate through his former protege, the aptly named Vicious, and an old flame, Julia. His inability to let go of the community he was once a part of--a community which crumbled when he left it--eventually leads to his death. Faye receives a videotape from her childhood that reawakens her sense of who she was and where she came from, only to discover that where she came from has been more thoroughly obliterated than her memory ever was. When she regains her memory, she realizes she has lost her community, and the only one she has to hang on to now--the crew of the Bebop--is coming apart at the seams, partly because she herself never admitted that she needed the community.

The characters in both series seem to desperately want a community to belong to, desperately want a peer group. They sort of find one in each others' company, but it is a tentative connection at best, torn apart easily. These are true loners, people who cannot exist in normal society for whatever reason. Their ability to interact has been stunted through various trials and tribulations, and as a result they are incapable of fully understanding what it is they crave or how to achieve it. These characters are, in a sense, very tragic for the same reason that they are hip--they seem to need no one, no thing; they are solitary, existing beyond the law, beyond right and wrong; they appear as though they have all the answers and are unflappably cool. But there is desire and need buring below the surface, and most of the characters never seem to admit to the existence of this desire, and thus they are undone.

All in all, the characters in both Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo are exceptionally complex, tragic portraits of hipsters who attempt to deny their needs and live outside of the borders of society. In a way, they succeed, but they also fail utterly as human beings.


Song of the Moment: Soul Coughing, "Casiotone Nation"

"Hello Old Friend"

Had fun visiting with Ali today. We puttered around North OKC for awhile, hitting Best Buy and Barnes & Noble (and oddly enough, I didn't find anything I wanted...strange, that), then went and had dinner at Johnny Carrino's (mmm, Italian food). After that, we putzed around Quail Springs Mall, decided against seeing a movie, and then her boyfriend called and was mad that she wasn't back at the house yet, so we called it a night.

His reaction sorta surprised me, though. I mean, she and I haven't seen one another in about a year and a half, we figured out. And the one time I've met this guy, he really didn't like me. We think he's afraid I'll try and steal her away from him or something (we both laughed when he actually admitted that about a year or so ago). Of course, he's also untrusting of her assistant teacher, a 39 year old married man, mostly 'cause the guy's taken her out to lunch a couple of times when school wasn't in session but they had to be at work anyway. I've just decided that Ali's boyfriend is exceptionally insecure and thinks all other males are a threat to him...which is silly. I mean, she's living with him, not me, y'know?

I'm always a little amused by the idea that any guy could feel threatened by me. It's happened a couple of times, and each time there was never a chance of me stealing the girl away from the guy--either she was too devoted to him, or I was too good a friend to want to even try to take her away.

Picked up Mermaid Avenue, Volume II this evening when I got back into Norman. Very spiffy CD. The lyrics are more...venomous than those of the first volume. I think Bragg and Wilco grouped the songs like that on purpose, possibly. But excellent stuff.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg & Wilco, "All You Fascists"

Friday, February 11, 2005

"Come Gather 'Round People"

I can almost play Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" in the guitar. There are a few tricky chords in there I didn't know (i.e., chords that weren't G, C, or D), but I'm figuring most of them out thanks to the song books I borrowed from dad (which, while they don't have that song in them, do happen to have most of the chords I need, just scattered throughout the book). The only chord I haven't been able to find yet is the Gmaj7. I have no clue what that chord even is. I bet it's just a basic G chord without holding down the last string. That'd be about the way things usually go for me.

Well, off for gaming now. Later, I have some interesting thoughts on Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo I want to put down for all the world to see.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A'Changin'"

"It's 3 A.M. I Must Be Lonely"

So I had a weird night last night. After taking a nap which lasted most of the latter half of the day (from around 2.00 or 3.00 until about 7.00), I ended up not being able to sleep hardly at all last night, even though I went to bed around midnight. I couldn't sleep for more than about an hour or two at a stretch, and kept waking up, rolling over, and trying to fall back asleep. I was awake when my alarm started going off, and hit the snooze button for almost an hour. It was downright bizarre.

Mom gave me $25 for Valentine's Day, which was cool. It'll go towards Saturday, when I'm going up to North OKC to visit an old friend from high school. I have no idea what we'll do (aside from most likely grab dinner), but I guess we'll figure that out when I get there.

Strange thing, though--I'm wondering how wise it was of us to get together the Saturday before Valentine's Day (which is Monday). I mean, she has a boyfriend (a rather serious one at that), and it's already a given that he really doesn't like me (I've never fully understood why, either), so I'm wondering if it's the best thing for us to get together on the weekend before the big V-Day. I dunno. Probably shouldn't worry about it.


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

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Ways In Which Growing Up Sucks, #237"

When you're a kid, falling off a bike entails a scraped elbow or knee, jumping right back up, and suffering no other adverse repercussions.

When you're an adult, it means you're sore the next day, have limited arm and leg movement, and you can't function as you ought. Man, getting old sucks.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Dreamville"

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"She Looked Just Like A Trainwreck"

Picture, if you will, the Chuck on his way to work early this morning. He is on his bike, cutting travel time from 15 minutes to a mere 5, no mean feat when one is already somewhat late for work. Yes, it is cold upon the bike, with the wind cutting across his skin like a frosty knife, but he has his scarf and gloves, and he can handle the cold for the few minutes he will be exposed to it.

See the entrance to the corner gas station on Jenkins, one of the main thoroughfairs in the campus vicinity. This entrance has a slight patch of ice on it, but nothing too serious or too large. Anyone paying attention could easily negotiate the ice and continue on their merry way.

Envision the Chuck, blissfully riding his bike and listening to Glen Phillips, oblivious to the dangers before him. The sky is clear, the ground seems mostly dry, and there shouldn't be any bad patches of ice between here and work, right? Certainly not on the sloping entrance to the corner store.

Ah, but alas for our hapless protagonist, there is ice there! And he realizes this too late, and also realizes he has angled the bike so that he may negotiate the tricky maneuver of going from the sidewalk to the corner store parking lot. See the bike go one way, see the Chuck go the other in a comic ballet of slapstick. See the young man with his pride bruised more than his body, for who would have thought he'd slip here, on one of the main streets, before everyone in town? Hear him mutter curses and explitives as he regains his composure and his bike and sets off--at a much more sedate and careful pace--for work. See him limp into work ten minutes late, one knee of his khakis soiled by the fall, one of his gloves rather tattered on the palm from saving his flesh from a similar fate. Hear Chuck swear he'll never bike when it's icy again.


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Careless"

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Rinse The Raindrops"

So it occurred to me that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. In the liturgical calendar thing, this means something like the beginning of Lent.

Now granted, I'm not Catholic, and therefore not really beholden to practice Lent. I'm Presbyterian, there's nothing in the Bible that says we have to give up something for the next several weeks leading up to Easter, and so John Calvin and John Knox said we didn't have to do it. But something about the idea of Lent has always appealed to me. Maybe it's the notion of making your own little personal deal with God--I'll give up this thing which is dear to me, for You, 'cause You gave up something very dear for me. I think giving up some petty vice for 40 days isn't too difficult, do you?

Anyway, last year I gave up soda pop. It was great--I felt better, I think I lost a few pounds, and I saved some cash on the deal as well. Unfortunately, I got right back into the habit 'round about Finals Week of Spring, so it didn't last as long as I wanted. So I'm thinking of trying it again. It would really help with this whole weight loss thing, and I think I'd stick to it. Thing is, when I tell family or friends or even myself that I'm going to quit drinking soda, there's always a part of me going, "yeah right. They won't know if I sneak one, and I don't care if I do." Lying to human beings, though it's something I don't really like to do anymore, is still pretty easy; lying to one's God, well, that's a bit trickier, and I never feel comfortable doing it. There's just something intrinsically wrong with lying to God, I think. And rather ridiculous, too--I mean, it's not like God wouldn't know you're lying. Honestly.

So yeah, I'm going to give up soda pop for Lent. I just drank my last one, and I'm hoping that (after the headaches and withdrawals pass) I won't really miss it. I mean, c'mon, if my dad can give up his 20-odd year old 2 pot a day coffee habit, surely I can give up soda pop.


Song of the Moment: Paul McCartney, "Driving Rain"

"I Need A Camera To My Eye"

I think getting a digital camera will be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because, given that I love taking pictures of my friends and family, I can now do so with impunity, and then take the pictures and put them directly on my computer.

A curse because, well, I can add those pictures to this thing and torture both you and those I took the pictures of:

That's my paternal grandfather and my cousin's daughter, Bailey, at my grandfather's 74th birthday, just so you know.

We live in interesting times. Interesting times indeed.


Song of the Moment: Paul Simon, "Kodachrome"

"Like This Scribbling Might Stay"

Seems lots of folks are singing Ping's praises lately, and deservedly so. Ping's contributions to the webcomics community--not only in terms of the comics she does, what she writes about comics, and the way she aids the community--are a testament to someone who is not only committed to the art form and the community, but to being just a decent human being. She tries to downplay her own abilities and contributions sometimes, but let's face it--she does more for webcomics on an average day than most webcomic people do in an entire week. I really do wonder how she manages it all and still maintains a life away from her computer (or at least away from webcomics).

Anyway, anyone who's talked with Adam or I about webcomics and Keenspace at length knows that Ping's done us a huge amount of help over the past year and a half or so, and been one of our biggest supporters. We've thanked her many times, I'm sure, but it's always worth doing so again, 'cause God knows Ping does more for everyone in webcomics than we really deserve.

Yeah, okay, I'm done wavin' the banner and asking her to bear my children. Go read one of her comics or something.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Guess I Planted"

Monday, February 07, 2005

"Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue"

It seems like a bad idea on the face of it--take a bunch of unused Woody Guthrie song lyrics and let a couple of contemporary musicians set them to music and record them. God only knows what sort of crap you'll get--either stuff that tries too hard to be Guthrie and fails, or stuff that completely ignores Guthrie and fails.

But what you end up with isn't either of those. No, what you get is absolutely wonderful, 15 songs of absolute majesty, humor, warmth, wit, anger, and acute insight into not only the mind of one of American music's most important songwriters, but a glimpse of the America he lived in and how that America was the same as and different from the America of his dreams. What you get is Mermaid Avenue.

The songs on this album (and its second volume, released a couple of years later) all used lyrics Woody Guthrie wrote from the late 1940s until his death in 1967. Guthrie himself stopped performing after about 1950 due to a neurological disease, but he kept writing until he died. In the early 1960s, he offered the lyrics to a young Bob Dylan, who initially took him up on the offer but was never able to get them from Guthrie's wife (Dylan made mention of this in his excellent memoir Chronicles, Volume 1). Instead, almost forty years down the road, Guthrie's daughter offered the lyrics to Billy Bragg, who promptly called up alt-country heroes Wilco and got down to picking out fifteen absolute gems for this record.

The album opens with the drunken sea shanty "Walt Whitman's Niece," a sly and raucous song about two drunken sailors in search of comfort and whores (there's really no more polite way to phrase it, honest). It just gets better from there. Guthrie had a knack for capturing very human portraits in his music and for crafting wonderful images in his short, economical lyrical style.

The songs are divyed up between Bragg and Wilco, each taking a turn fronting the song (which means you've got either Bragg or Jeff Tweedy singing, essentially, though there's one tune where Natalie Merchant takes the lead vocal to great effect). Each partner in this endeavour came up with music for a particular set of lyrics--Bragg was responsible for songs like "Walt Whitman's Niece" and "Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key," while Wilco did duty on "California Stars" and "Christ for President." Each partner brought a different style and aesthetic to their songs, but the overall effect is very pleasing and very consistant. Bragg's numbers tend to be more universal and enjoyable, though Wilco turns the children's song "Hoodoo Voodoo" into a bright, cheerful sing-along. Wilco's contributions, while not slouchy in any way, just aren't as timeless as Bragg's, and seem very much a part of the moment they were written in (you can hear that Wilco is between their Being There and SummerTeeth albums).

This is an album of wonderful gems of songs. "Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key" is a funny, dirty song about a young man in Okfuskee County (home of Okemah, Oklahoma, Guthrie's home town) who convinces a young lady to go off with him into the woods to a "holler tree" (that's "hollow tree" for those of you who don't speak Okie) and take off her shirt by telling her that, yes, he may be ugly, but "there ain't nobody who can sing like me." "Christ for President" is a reminder that, while Guthrie was a Christian and a man of fairly traditional values, he was also a leftist who thought that big business and the government were ruining the country and perhaps America would be better if it followed true Christian, starting with tossing the ol' moneychangers out of the Temple.

Mermaid Avenue is a rousing, eclectic collection of excellent songs. It's a reminder of Guthrie's breadth and depth as a writer, and a fitting tribute to one of the icons of American music. But this is no mere tribute album; rather, it's a true collaboration--lyrics from Guthrie, and music that makes no attempt to mimic or imitate Guthrie's musical style from Bragg and Wilco. But even without attempting to sound like Guthrie in their playing, the partners manage to invoke Guthrie's spirit and power in their music. It sounds nothing like the sort of songs Guthrie himself wrote, but you can feel his energy pulsing through these songs nonetheless. And that's the greatest thing about the record--Bragg and Wilco's contributions don't feel grafted on, nor do Guthrie's lyrics feel like they were crammed into existing melodies in some shoddy, half-assed effort to make money off a dead man. No, this is real collaboration across forty years' time, and it works. I can't wait to go pick up Volume 2 next paycheck.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key"

"Just A Whisper On The Wind"

I hate being late for things. Things like appointments, dates, gatherings with friends, and work. So when I woke up this morning, glanced at the alarm, and realized it was already 8.00 (the time when I'm supposed to be at work), I have to admit that I was just more than a little peeved.

I don't know why it's become so hard for me to make it to work on time anymore. Back when I was busier than hell a couple of semesters ago, I didn't think twice about making it to work by 7.45 every morning, bright-eyed and ready to go...okay, maybe "bright-eyed" is a little exaggeration, but you get the idea. I've slid downhill, spiralled towards that point where I'm starting to think to myself, "gosh, if I were my employer, I'd be worried about my ability to work about now or to maintain the professional standards we've established." Granted, since I work for the academic side of the OU Athletic Department, these standards aren't very high, and I'm definitely not my own boss, so it's probably for the best that I just make the effort from now on to get to work on time.

Something that'd help tremendously would be going to bed earlier. This whole not going to sleep until around 2.00 am thing is a real pain.

Actually, what needs to happen is that I need to get to the point where I'm working the schedule I'm...well, scheduled for. When I work a night shift, I'm actually scheduled to come in the next day at 9.00, not 8.00. I've been having to come in at 8.00 anyway just because of staff shortage, but still...I dunno. I guess it'll all get worked out. These things usually do.

Anyway, later I shall regale you with tales of a stormy south...or perhaps just a review of Mermaid Avenue like I said I'd write yesterday. I know, I know--I'm full of promises, which are only so much wasted breath, it seems.


Song of the Moment: George Harrison, "Stuck Inside a Cloud"

Sunday, February 06, 2005

"This Machine Kills Fascists"

Woody Guthrie is an almost mythic character in American music. I think his status has slipped in the past few years, due in no small part to the fact that the country is run by conservatives who've been villifying Guthrie for the past half-century. What else do you do with a good ol' boy who believes in tradition but also believes in allowing people to live free? That's a dangerous combination, an enemy within that must be destroyed, right?

Guthrie's history is the stuff of legends. He was born in Ofuskee County--Okemah, Oklahoma, to be specific. If you've never heard of the place, it's not surprising--Okemah is a town of only a few hundred people. There are no stoplights, no Wal-Mart, no movie theater. You can walk clear across town in about five, ten minutes, depending on how much of a hurry you're in. And folks are never in a hurry in Okemah--there's no reason to be. Life is measured in very rural terms--harvest time, day and night, and with very little attention paid to hours and minutes and the city. And this is what Woody Guthrie came from, only moreso--remember, he was born in 1912. Oklahoma had only been a state for five years at that time.

There are two nods to Woody Guthrie in Okemah. The first is the water tower, visible from the interstate, which reads "Home of Woody Guthrie." The other is the annual Woody Guthrie Music Festival, held every summer, when musicians from all over the state and the nation converge on Okemah, sit around campfires late into the night, and just play music. Hundreds of guitars strumming Woody's songs, Dylan's songs, old traditional shanties from New England and Appalacia and whatever else strikes the musicians' fancies. I plan on attending this coming summer. I feel I need to, at this point.

Guthrie's music was full of heroes, villains, and real-life people just trying to survive and get by. His words conjured the Dust Bowl, the heroism of World War II soldiers, the humor and warmth of humanity at its noblest and with a biting, angry twang when he was describing the dark underbelly of humanity in general and America in particular. Guthrie didn't shy away from either side of the coin--he was equally concerned with the simple, everyday pleasures of life and the evils man would commit in the name of greed, hatred, and stupidity.

Guthrie is probably best known for the song "This Land is Your Land," which concerns itself with the state of Depression-era America and how, contrary to songs like "God Bless America," the country seemed to be in pretty dire straits. The song is drenched in irony and sarcasm, but folks usually ignore this fact and treat it like a patriotic call to love the country (much like Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA"--it occurs to me that some people just don't bother looking very deep beyond the surface of something, or sometimes even at more than the chorus of a song. It also occurs to me that people like to ignore facts if those facts contradict one's "reality"). But Guthrie was always trying to battle someone or protest something. He saw himself as a member of a hurting community of middle Americans who were suffering at the hands of big business, and saw it as his duty and purpose to fight for that disaffected community. And fight he did--until he was bedridden by a neurological disease, Guthrie played his songs, wrote his sings (and he continued to write even after he was bedridden--but more on that when I review Mermaid Avenue), and did everything he could to defeat the "fascists" he saw all around, and not just in Germany. It's no wonder Guthrie had "This Machine Kills Fascists" written on his guitar in big, bold letters.

Guthrie's music is an American institution--a body of work that runs the gamot from wry, amusing little ditties to children's songs, protest songs, old folk ballads about death and robbery and pain and betrayal, and everything in between. Guthrie expressed the American Dream, railed against those who were attempting to destroy it for the common man, and fought for the Dream every chance he got. Guthrie is a hero, an icon, a figure in American music who ought to be revered and honored. And he came from Oklahoma.


Song of the Moment: Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land"

Saturday, February 05, 2005

"Not To Say What Book Of Poems"

Successful and busy day. Went over to my aunt and uncle's place this afternoon for family get-together. My paternal grandfather turned 74 today, so we saw that as cause to celebrate. Ate well, piddled on guitars (my dad was showing my uncle his new Martin acoustic...even let me play it a bit, and damn if that thing doesn't sound good even when I'm playing it), and chased my cousin's daughter around the house all afternoon.

We think we actually figured something out with Bailey this afternoon. She always calls me "a'Chuck," and we've been scratching our heads trying to figure out why. But we also noticed she calls my dad something similar--"a'Ron," or "Uncle Ron," as we've told her to call him. So we decided she was trying to call me "Uncle Chuck," which is kinda cute and endearing, really.

Before I went to my aunt and uncle's place, I made a little sojourn to Hastings, where I unloaded a few CDs I never listen to anymore (like my old John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits CD, which was kinda redundant what with owning the two-disc Words and Music collection now). With the money I made off those, I picked up Mermaid Avenue, a record by Billy Bragg and Wilco. It's a collection of songs done using old Woody Guthrie lyrics (lyrics which Guthrie never put to music). It's a damn fine album, and I'll talk about it at great length tomorrow probably.

Spent the evening doing laundry (needed clean pants, underwear, and socks. Would've done more laundry, like shirts and whatnot, only I didn't have enough quarters for that) and watching the first volume of Samurai Champloo. My initial thoughts on the anime are that it kicks serious ass. One of the main characters is voiced by the guy who did Spike in Cowboy Bebop and happens to be one of my favorite English voice actors. I was worried that this was just going to be Cowboy Bebop in feudal Japan with swords, but it's not. This series already feels much less episodic and much more plot-driven than Bebop was, even in just the first four episodes. My only concern is that I have to wait until the end of March (or probably April, since this is Oklahoma) to get the next volume. Maybe that'll give me time to actually save up the money for it (pfft, yeah right, me save money. That's funny).

Oh, last thing--Wilco will be in OKC on April 25. I just need to find someone to go with me.


Song of the Moment: Billy Bragg and Wilco, "Walt Whitman's Niece"

"Toad The Wet Sprocket - Welcome Home: Live"

This show was recorded live in 1992 in Toad's hometown of Santa Barbara, California. It came right on the heels of their successful Fear album, which contained the radio hits "Walk on the Ocean" and "All I Want."

The record finds the band in fine form, performing several cuts (8--almost half of the album) from Fear and about half as many from their first two albums, Bread & Circus and Pale. The remaining two tracks are the non-album cut "Brother" and the then-unreleased "Fall Down," which would appear on 1994's Dulcinea. The band give each song an excellent reading, performing with energy, humor, warmth, and precision. The audience seems equally enthused about the new material as they do with the older, more familiar cuts.

The best thing about Welcome Home is that it does cover this early period, right at the beginning of Toad's creative and commerical high point. Their work is much more polished than when they began on Bread & Circus, but it still contains a certain ragged charm that their later albums (like Coil) seemed to lack.

Though everything on this disc is worthwhile, the highlights are "Walk on the Ocean," "Torn" (introduced by Glen Phillips with an audible smirk and the words "and now a song about clinical depression"), "Chile" (my personal favorite from Pale), Fear's "Butterflies" (which features a medley with the Beatles' "Within You Without You." Anyone with the balls to do something like that--and actually pull it off--has to be impressive), "Brother," and "Know Me," which features a different introductory snippet than the album version found on Bread & Circus. The only drawback to the record is that it maybe leans a little too heavily upon the material from Fear; I'd have liked to have heard more from Bread & Circus, such as "One Wind Blows" or the beautiful "Covered in Roses." But the songs here are excellent and well-performed, reminding you that this criminally-overlooked band deserves some respect and attention from any music fan with a discerning taste.


Song of the Moment: Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Chile (Live)"

Friday, February 04, 2005

"Told That She Will Have To Take It"

Well, today was payday, which is actually Greek for "Chuck managed to get hold of a little cash and proceeded to spend more of it than he should." Though my paycheck was rather more meager than I anticipated, I still had a decent amount, and I got a little cash to splurg.

First and foremost, I finally found that Toad the Wet Sprocket live album, Welcome Home, that I've been looking for over the past month. I'm listening to it right now, and it's great. I'll have one of them review-type thingies up for it later.

Also picked up the first volume of a new anime series, Samurai Champloo. It's directed by the guy who did Cowboy Bebop, only instead of bounty hunters in the future it's vagrant samauri in feudal Japan. And the music is apparently hip-hop (the DVD came with a soundtrack CD). So now I have a CD of hip-hop. Actually, I already owned three CDs of hip-hop, assuming that the Gorillaz count as hip-hop. It's very telling, though, that every single hip-hop CD I own is cartoon hip-hop. Very telling indeed.

Third, I grabbed the second book in the Bitterbynde Trilogy (the first being The Ill-Made Mute, which I've mentioned a few times), The Lady of the Sorrows. The Ill-Made Mute left off just when the narrative was picking up steam and getting really interesting, so I'm curious to see where the author takes it.

Anyway, a few friends should be en route as we speak, so I must be off. On a follow-up note, my knee is feeling much better, and I've almost got full range of motion back. It still twinges once in awhile, but it's nothing I can't tolerate. As long as I don't attempt to run a marathon anytime soon or anything, I ought to be okay. Oh, and check it out--I added character bios for Crooked Halo on Dim Bulb's About Page. Now you can tell who's who!


Song of the Moment: Toad the Wet Sprocket, "All I Want (Live)"

"Fallin' In Love Is So Hard On The Knees"

Okay, maybe not falling in love, but I managed to do something last night that really messed up my right knee. I was sitting at my computer after work last night, and I crossed my leg under me. Something went "pop," and my knee sorta went numb. When feeling came back, it came back with a sort of pain, a stiffness of the joint, and the annoyance that walking and riding the bike were gonna be difficult.

I'm not sure what brought this on, I'm not sure how long it'll last or what effect it'll have on my mobility. My leg supports my weight still, and it doesn't hurt to stand on it, just to bend it. My range of motion is pretty impaired--I can only comfortably bend it about half of my usual range of motion. It's rather frightening. If I can't move around freely, I can't get to work, I can't use my car (this is my right knee, after all, and I have to use my right foot for the gas and brake pedals), and...well, it just doesn't bear thinking about. I hope it doesn't get worse than it already is. I'm going to try to take it easy today, not put too much pressure on it. Might ice it when I get home, but I don't know yet.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "In a Future Age"

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"My Pop Quiz Kid"

I thought today was going to be one of my short days, but Ev called me up about half an hour ago and said one of the evening shift didn't make it, could I ( being one of the about two or three people not working tonight) make it in? "Yeah, sure, why not," comes my reply, and here I am, back at work. At least I'm getting paid.

But it woke me from my nap. That's what annoys me most. It was a good nap, especially for one on the couch. Probably for the best, though--at least I might get a decent night's sleep tonight, when I need to sleep. But it also means I'm kinda drowsy right now, and if it weren't for the restorative powers of caffinee, I'd stand no chance.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Can't Stand It"

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"Disposable Dixie Cup Drinking"

I have to wonder--why, in representations of Hell such as Dante's Inferno and whatnot, does Hell possess a couple of rivers (the River Styx and the River REO Speedwagon, I think they were...or something like that, I dunno. They both sounded like '80s bands to me)? I mean, according to modern interpretations of Hell, isn't it some firey pit of dispair and eternal torment? Wouldn't rivers either (1) offer succor and relief to the damned or (2) evaporate like an Oklahoma river in August? Or are these special rivers that aren't really filled with water at all, but some sort of acidic substance with a ridiculously high boiling point?

Whatever the case, when I take over Hell, there will be some changes. First one will be Hawiian Shirt Fridays, because nothing lowers the morale of the damned quicker than forced joviality and casual dress imposed by the powers that be.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Sunken Treasure"

"It's A Sin To Be Fading Endlessly"

So we have a new employee now. Her name's Lindsay, and she's gonna be fun to have around, I can already tell. Today she came in for her training, such as it was, and we got a chance to test her out as far as compatability and such.

Oddly enough, she's from my hometown, Shawnee, though she went to a different high school than did I. She's also a music geek, and she not only recognized but actually liked all but one of the bands/musicians I named (she didn't know Moxy Früvous, but I didn't think she would. No one around here ever does). Craziness. She herself plays in a couple of bands and is apparently quite versatile, playing keyboards, accordian, and guitar. She's personable, intelligent, laughs, and is quite attractive. The fact that I think all this after meeting her once is probably a pretty clear sign that I'm smitten with a total stranger who probably wouldn't even think twice about turning me down. This is not unusual.

Beyond that, it's just been a fairly long day. Work this morning wasn't too hard, but I'm back again this evening and have to be here for another 5 1/2 hours. On top of that, my paycheck is about $100 smaller than I thought it would be and my pay raise wasn't on the paycheck like I was told it would be. Those are both very frustrating issues. And on top of even all that, there's more drama going here at work, drama we could do without. You know it's pretty bad when your boss--who has worked her job diligently and taken all sorts of flak and downright rude behavior from any number of people with a smile over those ten years--is talking about dusting off the ol' resume. God, I hope we all get out of here before next Fall.


Song of the Moment: Counting Crows, "Mercury"

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"I Would Buy Myself A Grey Guitar And Sing"

It's been one of those busy days. Work wasn't too bad, thankfully, though tomorrow is going to be one of my long days (8-12 and 4-10). After work, I went over to my aunt and uncle's place and hung out, mostly in an effort to convince my cousin's daughter to get used to me. Bailey always seems frightened to death of me for the first ten or fifteen minutes I'm around, and then she suddenly seems to remember who I am, grab me buy the hand, and drag me around the house to play. We've decided there are two possible reasons she's always initially so scared of me: one, I look like some member of her mother's family who has, somehow, mistreated the child (if that's the case, blood will be shed. But I seriously doubt that this is the case, as I really don't look anything like any of my cousin's wife's family). Two, I'm just a wee bit imposing to a two year old. I'm one of the biggest guys in my family, both in terms of height and weight. Clif is taller, but Bailey is never around him except when it's a big family gathering. My cousin was apparently frightened of our great-uncle when he was Bailey's age (granted, my great-uncle is a rather imposing individual himself--fully half a foot and a hundred pounds larger than I, with a deep, booming bass voice. If you didn't know he was such a teddy bear, you'd be scared to death of him...and since I know he was a cop in Tulsa and once took out a length of chainlink fence with a guy for resisting arrest, "bear" is probably a fairly accurate description in many ways). My cousin is a slight young man, and his parents are neither tall nor large themselves. His wife is no taller or larger than he. My grandparents aren't really all that big, either (though my grandfather is a tall man and exceptionally strong and well-built, he seems smaller than he, he's Papaw. It's tough to be scared of an old man who will still get down on the floor and play horsey). I'm the biggest person she encounters on a regular basis. I'm also the only one with facial hair, something which we're pretty certain Bailey just really doesn't like anyway.

So I may end up shaving the goatee off. Been thinking about doing so anyway for awhile now, just for a change. We'll see.

I'm actually seeing improvement with my guitar abilities. I was changing chords this evening and not completely sucking at it, which is a vast improvement over yesterday, when I was playing a chord, stopping, switching to another chord, playing that one, and switching to the next. Hell, by the end of the month, I might even be able to play a real song. Of course, that's assuming I can get the strumming down. I swear, I didn't realize that strumming would be that difficult. I strum too hard, I'm not very accurate (I miss the strum sometimes...I miss the freakin' strings. I have no idea how I do it). It all looks so easy when I watch Clif or my dad or my uncle play, and I'm kinda frustrated that it's not that easy for me. But I keep reminding myself that they've all been playing for years (Clif for about four or five years now, and my dad and my uncle have been playing for longer than I've been alive). I've been playing for a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I've a headache, tomorrow's comic is already scanned and uploaded, and there's really nothing keeping me awake at the moment. I'm off.


Song of the Moment: Counting Crows, "Caravan"

"Counting Crows - Films About Ghosts: The Best Of..."

Greatest Hits and Best Of albums are always contentious issues. What's the difference between the two? A "greatest hits" collection generally collects a band's biggest charting songs, the singles and maybe a few well-loved album tracks. On the other hand, a "best of" is much more subjective, gathering together what are generally considered the band's best songs, whether those songs are radio hits or not. This means you can often dig deeper into a band's work, getting past the singles and into the meat of each album.

And that's sort of the case with the Counting Crow's best of disc, Films About Ghosts. It offers a pretty fair portrait of the band's various strengths and styles, giving the listener enough to whet the appetite but not enough to sate.

The disc contains all of their big hits--"Mr. Jones," "Round Here," "A Long December," "Hanginaround," "American Girls," and "Big Yellow Taxi" (at least, those were the songs that were popular in this area of the country. I'm sure they had radio hits elsewhere that weren't hits here, because let's face it--most Oklahomans wouldn't know good music if it slapped them in the face and started insulting their mothers). There's also a decent selection of album cuts, such as "Rain King" (one of my personal favorite Crows songs), "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" (one of my other favorite Crows songs), "Omaha," and "Recovering the Satellites." There are also two non-album songs thrown in to attract the fans who already own all the albums--the infectous "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)" (the reason I bought the CD) and two new songs, a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and the gorgeous "She Don't Want Nobody Near."

The disc focuses mostly on the Crows' first two albums, August and Everything After (five tunes) and Recovering the Satellites (three cuts, and not even the best songs from that record), skimping on This Desert Life (only two cuts) and Hard Candy (three songs) and skipping the two-disc live set Across a Wire altogether. While their first two records were arguably their biggest sellers, the scant treatment of their latter day works is downright criminal--only two cuts from This Desert Life? If nothing else, the track "Colorblind" (featured prominently in the movie Cruel Intentions) deserves inclusion, or the hidden track "Kid Things," or even "Speedway" or "Saint Robinson in his Cadillac Dream." Why is "Holiday in Spain" on here instead of the title track from Hard Candy?And track selection from their first two records is sometimes questionable--"Angels of the Silence" instead of "Daylight Fading?" "Recovering the Satellites" instead of "Have You Seen me Lately?" "Anna Begins" instead of "Murder of One" or "Raining in Baltimore?" This sort of nitpicking can go on for hours, depending upon the personal preferences of the listener.

All told, though, Films About Ghosts is a great set. It presents Counting Crows as a consistant, energetic band with a great sense of melodicism, lyricism, and an understanding of its classic rock roots (you can hear the influence of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Tom Petty, and the Beatles). This record is a great introduction to one of the best roots rock bands of the 1990s and early 2000s.


Song of the Moment: Counting Crows, "Friend of the Devil"