Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Don't Get Lost In Heaven"

So Clif and I putzed around Norman this morning/afternoon. We went to Best Buy first and got a stereo put in his car so the poor child has a CD player. While they were installing that, we roamed Best Buy and the Wal-Mart next door. While at Wal-Mart, we got the pictures on my digital camera developed (only took 'em an hour, which I was impressed with). While the pictures were being developed, we walked over to Hastings and wandered around, then to the Little Ceasars in the plaza and had a pizza on the curb. After our lunch, we headed back to Wal-Mart, picked up the pictures, and then headed back to Best Buy. Our timing was pretty good--we had time to look at our pictures, and then we went and got his car, now repleat with a CD player.

After that, we headed back to the apartment, where I copied a couple of CDs for Clif (while he found others to borrow) and then he headed home. I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a whole lot of nothing, then fell asleep around 6.30 or 7.00 (as has been my wont for the past week or two). Woke up around 10.30, watched a couple of episodes of Futurama, and now here I am. May go watch Casablanca or Shaun of the Dead here in a minute, then hit the sack. Not like I have any plans beyond cleaning the apartment tomorrow.


Song of the Moment: Gorillaz, "Dirty Harry"

Monday, May 30, 2005

"Feel Good Inc."

Clif's on his way over. He called me up half an hour ago to tell me this. Seems he wants to get a CD player installed in his truck (which only has a tape player at the moment), and Best Buy is doing same-day installation right now. There's not a Best Buy in Shawnee, but there is in Norman. Hence, a trip over here.

Of course, this means I didn't get to sleep nearly as long as I wanted to this morning. And by "as long as I wanted to" I mean until around noon. Ah well, there's always tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday. That is the nice thing about the reduced intersession schedule--I get to sleep in all the time. If only this were a luxury I could afford.

Weekend was good. Spent Saturday at my aunt and uncle's playing guitars and eating barbeque, and Sunday I went and saw Episode III again, this time with Ev. He surprised me by actually enjoying the film. I mean, I knew I liked it well enough, but I figured his perspective on the matter would be skewed severely in dislike of the film simply because I know how much he detested the first two prequels.

Well, gotta go get ready for Clif's imminent arrival. I've got more stuff to talk about, but I think it all warrants individual posts.


Song of the Moment: Gorillaz, "Dirty Harry"

Friday, May 27, 2005

"It's Three O'Clock In The Morning, Or Maybe It's Four"

Actually, it's three A.M., and I'm getting ready to hit the sack...

...which is made interesting and maybe a little difficult by the fact that the folks across the way have this bright-ass spotlight turned on so they can see all the boxes they've got stacked up on their back porch.

Okay, I can understand that they're getting ready to move out. I can sympathize, really. But how much are they really getting accomplished at 3.00 AM? Honestly, I'm guessing the guy's been at work all day and his wife's been home taking care of stuff around the apartment (I say this not because I'm a misogynist, but because I know how these folks operate--I can all but guarantee that she does not have any sort of job outside of the home. So I'm not being a chauvinist, I'm just stating the truth). They've worked on this stuff all afternoon and evening, and they were still working on it when I came home from Writing Club around 10.00. The spotlight was on then, and I can just imagine it's annoying the hell out of their less-nocturally-inclined neighbors. If I weren't a night owl, I'd have probably gone over there already to complain. Really, how much real work can you get done at this hour on something like moving? Give it a rest for the day, guys. Even if you have to be out by the end of the month, you've got a three-day weekend coming up during which you can do all sorts of packing and such. Go get some damn sleep, I know I'm ready to.


Song of the Moment: Wallflowers, "Back to California"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"Bruce Springsteen - Devils + Dust"

Bruce Springsteen has always written songs that feel epic and bombastic. Everything is important, everything is a matter of life and death in a Bruce Springsteen tune--whether it's cruising Main Street, escaping one's hometown, escaping poverty or the law, or whatever--Bruce's songs have a cinematic, melodramatic feel to them. And it works. With some artists, this sort of approach would seem artificial and fake, but the Boss makes it seem natural and real and human...just epic. Blown up and magnified for the big screen.

Devils + Dust has that cinematic feel to it. It's a fairly low-key album for the Boss, but it still feels like he's trying to tell the story of everyone in the midwest and the south. The music seems to reflect this effort--there are slide guitars, harmonicas, doboros, acoustics gallore, and the occasional fiddle. Springsteen also tries on numerous styles, including country, country blues, and acoustic blues. Musically, this album recalls the Great Plains and the American West. There are several straight-ahead rockers on here, too. The title track, which opens the album, is a slow-building, driving anthem that rises to a cresendo and leads into the second track, "All the Way Home," perfectly. "Reno" is a slow, meloncholy tune about a man's encounter with a prostitute. It's also about the saddest song I've ever heard. The final lines, "It wasn't the best I'd ever had,/Not even close," are filled with such saddness and despair that it almost brings you to tears. They're the words of a man who regretted his actions with every fiber of his being, and knows that it wasn't even near worth it. "Black Cowboys" is about a youth who reads about the Seminole Negroes of the post-Civil War Oklahoma Territory.

Springsteen tries a variety of vocal affectations on this record, some working better than others. The world-weary, raspy voice of the narrator in "Reno" is very affecting, while the quavering falsetto in "Maria's Bed" only works part of the time (while musically it's a raucous, entertaining song. It's actually my favorite song even in spite of the vocals, which speaks highly of the song as a whole). But most of the time, Springsteen relies on a deep, world-weary tone that conveys emotion and feeling exceptionally well.

Devils + Dust is a solid, well-made album. It rocks, it shuffles, it ebbs and flows the way a classic album ought to. It's concerned with salvation on a personal level, where The Rising was concerned with the salvation of the entire human race, achieved through personal stories. Here, the personal stories are about efforts for salvation, the failure for personal salvation, or the search for redemption in the face of adversities personal and universal. Devils + Dust showcases a talent that has only gotten better with age, a man who has aged gracefully but never given up his fights. It's a truly great record, and well-worth purchasing.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Maria's Bed"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"When You're On Top"

Picked up the new Wallflowers album today. My first impression (though I'm not done listening to it) is that it kicks serious ass. It's a shame there aren't more bands doing this sort of straight-ahead classicist rock anymore, 'cause I love it. Most bands have to have a gimick now, something that makes them unusual or different. Trouble is, that usually sets them up as a one-trick pony, and they ride that pony until its legs fall off. I mean, look at those rap-metal bands--those got old pretty damn fast, right? Does anyone actually care that Limp Bizkit has a new album out? Has anyone cared since like their first or second album? My answer is "not at all," but that's because I believe Fred Durst is in the running for world's worst frontman. His lyrical style and content are atrocious in ways that mere mortals shouldn't be able to manage. It's sad, very sad.

But folks keep returning to the well of classic rock/roots rock. And, if done right, it really never gets old, y'know? Bands like the Wallflowers have a sound, a sturdy, solid, dynamic sound, and each album is a slight variation on that sound, whether the variation is thematic or adding a new twist or whatever. You don't have to constantly reinvent yourself each time out, and you can still keep it fresh and interesting. Creedence Clearwater Revival proved that years ago by putting out records that were straight forward, simple, and insanely catchy. I mean, most of their songs are just G, C, and D, but they're immediate and fun and enjoyable. Bands like the Wallflowers and Counting Crows have this figured out, too, and I think they make great music because of it.

Now if we could just get Fred Durst to retire...or better yet, set himself on fire...


Song of the Moment: Wallflowers, "Nearly Beloved"

Monday, May 23, 2005

"Bought Bootleg Whiskey"

So I've been cruising eBay looking for a copy of the full Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band. The Basement Tapes are a collection of demos and rough tunes they recorded in upstate New York back in 1967 as Dylan recovered from his motorcycle accident. The songs are pure Americana, the mythos and music of America distilled into bursts of absolute creative genius. It's great stuff. A two-disc set was eventually released in the mid-70s to appease fans who'd heard of the legendary sessions, but it was terribly incomplete and painted an inaccurate portrait of what actually happened (for instance, several songs by the Band that weren't recorded during the sessions were included to make things seem more balanced. The truth of the matter was that Dylan was significantly more prolific than the Band, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Dylan. On top of that, it was only two discs, less than 20 songs. They recorded a couple hundred songs, though). So bootleg versions of the Basement Tapes are (and have been for a long time) very popular among Dylan afficianados, and rightly so.

But here's the problem--they are bootlegs. Y'know, not fully legal. That's sorta part of the very definition of "bootleg," right? So you know going in--or ought to know, anyway--that a bootleg copy of the full Basement Tapes is not fully legit, right? I know this and accept it, 'cause I really want to hear these songs. But some folks on eBay just don't seem to get it. There were a few who ordered items of a similar nature from one of the sellers on there and complained that their bootleg CDs were fakes. Which led me to think, "um, wait, wasn't that sort of a given? Were you expecting official bootlegs?" It's like buying a Rollex off a street vendor and then getting upset when the gold turns your wrist green and the word "Rollex" rubs off. You should know going in that what you're getting is, for all intents and purposes, illegitimate. It's a bootleg. The comparison with the fake Rollex sort of ends, though, when you consider that the bootleg album is the actual, real music, just not an official release by the musician's label. A fake Rollex wasn't made by Rollex, either, but it's not like the bootleg album doesn't actually feature the real artist really playing those songs. I mostly just think people complain about stupid stuff too much.


Song of the Moment: Led Zeppelin, "The Lemon Song"

"Still The Rain Kept Pouring"

So we had a nasty little thunderstorm around 6.00 am this morning...which is all well and good, except it woke me up. And there was hail. I haven't had a chance to check my car, but I fear there's hail damage. Stupid hail.

I usually like storms. I like falling asleep to them. I don't like being woken by them. Violent awakenings--such as the phone ringing right next to my ear or someone knocking on the door or a window-rattling peal of thunder--make me tense up. My pulse gets quicker (which makes it hard to go back to sleep), and all of my muscles get real tight. Which means my neck and shoulders are killing me right now, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Admittedly, part of the ache may just be delayed reaction from Saturday, when I spent my time either walking around or paddling a canoe (which is harder work than you'd think), or from Sunday, when I spent the entire day in a car. Either of those could also be contributing to my current pain. My kingdom for a massage, I tell you!


Song of the Moment: Eric Clapton, "If I had Possession Over Judgment Day"

Sunday, May 22, 2005

"Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again"

So, Memphis. Hell of a town. Clif and I damn near wet ourselves when we arrived on Beale Street. Folks were playing music wherever they could find enough space to set up their gear. This meant you had a lot of bands competing for attention, space, and an audience. The best ones, though, were the ones who didn't seem to even notice their audience. There was this old black man sitting out on the sidewalk with his acoustic guitar playing the most amazing acoustic blues I've heard since I first found out about Robert Johnson. And he was just playing constantly. He'd stop in between songs just long enough to thank someone who'd put some money in his tip bucket, and then he'd start playing again. You got the feeling he was making it all up as he went along, just playing what felt right (the way the blues ought to be, y'know?). He was also playing as though he were just playing for himself. If he had an audience, so be it. If he didn't, you got the feeling it wouldn't change anything about how or what he was playing. And his stuff was the better for that.

Saturday was a busy, long day. We started with a tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory. It was neat seeing where the things are made. Just wish it'd been during the week so we could see the factory in operation as opposed to when it was closed for the weekend.

After Gibson came Sun Studios, where Elvis and Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison got their starts. The birthplace, if you will, of rock and roll. And the studio really hasn't changed any since the 1950s, which is cool. They had some neat memoribilia there, like Elvis's guitar and things like that.

After Sun Studios, we had lunch (mmm, barbeque) and headed out to a place called Mud Island out in the middle of the Mississippi River. Clif and I rented a canoe and canoed for an hour, which was a nice break from walking and a very relaxing way to spend time. We kept stopping in the shade of the bridges over the river, and the nice breeze meant we had a comfortable spot to stop and relax.

Saturday night was spent sitting in a park on Beale Street listening to music and drinking beer. There's something slightly surreal about drinking beer with your father and younger brother, and discovering that your younger brother is probably, against all common sense, more of a beer drinker than you are. It's weird.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. We got to spend most of it playing or listening to music, which is a great way to spend any weekend. Clif and I also saw Revenge of the Sith Thursday night, but I'll wait to talk about that until after I've seen it with Ev later. I will say I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, though.

Next up--album reviews (which I'm rather behind on) and pictures from the trip. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.


Song of the Moment: Neil Young, "Long May You Run"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Van Morrison - Magic Time"

About every year or so, Van Morrison cranks out another well-crafted album of his patented blend of pop, jazz, blues, R&B, folk, and Celtic swing. This year (yesterday, in fact) is no different, and Magic Time serves up more of the same great music we know any love.

Stylistically, this album mines much the same territory Down the Road and What's Wrong with this Picture? did. This isn't to say that Van's in a holding pattern or anything--the music still has a freshness to it, even if the styles are ones he's been working in for thirty-odd years. Van has a tendency to simply phone in his albums occasionally, but he's been on a roll the past three or four records, and his enthusiasm for recording and playing is at a latter-day peak.

One has to wonder, though, just who the hell is bothering Van these days. Several of the songs--"Keep Mediocrity at Bay," "Just Like Greta," and "They Sold Me Out"--all feature similar themes: the idea that folks just won't leave him alone, that he's tired of being a song and dance man for their entertainment and amusement. But really, how much of a celebrity is Van Morrison in the 21st century? Sure, back in 1973, these songs would have seemed appropriate and timely, but they seem a few decades too late now. This isn't to discount Van's abilities, which are still considerable when he's on his game (which he is here, make no mistake about it). But honestly, is he still being hounded by the press and fans so much that, "like Greta Garbo, I just want to be alone"? "Keep Mediocrity at Bay" is actually a fairly appropriate song--a lot of Van's '80s work was mediocre at best, but he's bounced back from it in recent years to fine form. It's a reminder--both to himself and to everyone else--that one of the worst things one can do is not put forth one's best effort.

And Van's given us a damn fine effort with Magic Time. It's a solid record with some great songs. He manages to look to the past for inspiration and still keep it sounding new and immediate, which is no small feat. He does his Sinatra impression on "This Love of Mine," does a smoldering blue-eyed soul version of "I'm Confessin'," and a bluesy version of Fats Waller's "Lonely and Blue" that's damn-near perfect. These three covers fit in well with the original tunes on the record, offering a moment's familiarity (well, to a certain degree) amidst the new songs.

The album is dominated--as are most Van Morrison records--with mid-tempo and slow numbers, tunes that soothe the soul with kicking the imagination into high gear. Morrison still has a knack for wordplay and clever, introspective, heartfelt lyrics, and while some of them may be filled with bile and bitterness, there's still a sweet center to most of the songs. The most impressive part of the album is that Van takes styles and genres that are very familiar and makes them seem new again, as though he just invented them. The truth, though, is that he's been perfecting these styles and digging deeper into them for over thirty years as a solo artist, and he keeps finding new things to say and new ways to surprise us. And it all ends with hope--"Carry on Regardless" has a joy and energy to it, a sense that Morrison will keep doing his thing no matter what.

Ultimately, this is another solid album from The Man. He's not lost the fire of his youth, and his game is still strong. This record won't convince anyone who isn't already a Van Morrison fan, but the faithful will find a lot to love here. If you're looking for an introduction to his work, though, you start at the beginning--you start with Moondance and Tupelo Honey; Astral Weeks if you're into the more hippy-drippy stuff. But for those already initiated, Magic Time is another great serving of what Van does best.


Song of the Moment: Van Morrison, "Stranded"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"This Is Only A Test"

Got my test scores from the Praxis I today. My Reading was a 184, my Math was a 185 (don't ask me how that happened, I'm just as surprised as you), and my Writing was a 188 (naturally my strongest section, and the only one I was really waiting to find out how I did on). Those are all passing scores, so I'm in the clear. Actually, they're all above the national average, which I think is pretty good considering I did not study at all. Not a bit. Not even for the Math. I just went in and took it cold. Imagine if I'd actually had time to study. I'd have probably gotten everything right (well, except on the Math. The Math questions I got wrong I had no chance of getting right).

Now I just have to take the Praxis II on June 11 up in Stillwater. Mom said she'd drive me up there for it so I could sleep in the car (since the damn thing starts at 7.30 in the freakin' morning). So that'll be fun.

I'm going to Memphis this weekend with Dad and Clif. We're going to visit the Gibson Guitar Factory (they let you play some of the guitars even, which'll be entirely too much fun), wander up and down Beale Street, go to a jazz club or something. Just a fun little weekend getaway for the three of us who never get to relax or take a break. So that'll be fun.


Song of the Moment: Eric Clapton, "Running on Faith (Live Acoustic)"

Monday, May 16, 2005

"If you're not going to kill me, I have things to do"

I come bearing photos from my siblings graduation, and they are a harbinger of impending doom and destruction.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Here we see Clif as he walks up the center aisle to take his seat at the beginning of the ceremony. Note the cheese-eating grin. He wears that grin constantly.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The esteemable Dr. Stewart Dippel, my undergraduate advisor, addressing the graduates. He said warm and worthwhile stuff that most of them probably promptly forgot (he was a much better speaker than the Commencent Speaker guy was).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Noise Monkey's father receiving his diploma cover. What, I didn't say all the captions would be witty and humorous.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
My friend John Cooper getting his diploma cover. This picture would have been better had the girl in the cap and gown in the foreground not walked in front of me right as I was snapping the picture. No sense of timing, I swear.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Clyde gets his diploma cover. Both he and Dr. Niece, the President of the University of the Ozarks, seem very excited to finally my brother's scrawny butt out of U of O.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Cottrell siblings--me, Clyde, and Scott. There were about five cameras going at the same time, and none of us knew which one to face, so we all faced a different one.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Clif with the paternal grandparents.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Parents, Scott, and I join Clif for a photo. Scott's fat head somehow managed to obscure Clif's face, even though Clyde's a good head taller. Strange.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I know all the people in this picture, I just can't remember the name of the girls on either end. I know the one in the striped top is Audrey, an Ozarks alum who currently attends OU (and yet I managed to see her more at Ozarks than I do here at OU. Weird).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Clif with the girl whom, it turns out, is his girlfriend. Yeah, my brother got a girlfriend three weeks before he graduated. Cottrells have the absolute worst timing known to man.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Clif with his lady friend once more. Note the look of smug satisfaction on his face.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Me and Amanda E., whom I hadn't expected to see at graduation but was nonetheless very pleased to see. This is the only picture I have of the two of us together, because she is of the impression that she is not attractive (which I think is a load of horse pucky myself). My theory is that she's just too embarrassed to be seen in public with me.

So yeah, it was a bit of a bittersweet weekend, really. Hard to believe that most of my close ties to Ozarks are gone now. Adam still lives in the area, of course, and so do my old professors, but the great majority of my friends are long gone now. I was commenting to Amanda that this was the last class at Ozarks where I knew anyone. Strange, really.

I also managed to grab a video of Clif playing his tuba at baccalaureate, but I don't know of any way to upload that so that you could get access to it (even assuming you wanted it). It was pretty neat, actually, but I know that tuba music isn't everyone's forte.


Song of the Moment: Tom Petty, "Crawling Back to You"

Sunday, May 15, 2005


So I've been thinking lately abou the various "alt-country" bands and musicians out there. There are only a few big ones. The ones that come to my mind are Uncle Tupelo, the Old 97s, and Whiskeytown. I know there are several others, but these three seem to encompass the major approaches to the genre.

Alt-country, or cowpunk, is generally a fusion of country and punk. This fusion can be either thematic or stylistic in nature, and it can be approached from the side or the country side. The Old 97s started out as a punk band playing with country lyrical themes and instrumental flourishes. They've since morphed into something more of a pop-rock band with faint punk and country tinges, but if you listen to something like the classic Too Far to Care, it's like someone took a bunch of country lyrics and played them as fast and hard as any punk band.

Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown come from the opposite direction--they're playing country music with a bit of punk and classic rock influence. These are the guys who listened to Gram Parsons and decided he had the right idea. It's really country music that occasionally rocks out, but it works very well.

Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown are both defunct now, but each morphed into a new artist/band. Uncle Tupelo became Wilco and Son Volt, and Whiskeytown yielded Ryan Adams' solo career. For our purposes, we'll look at Wilco and Ryan Adams (mostly 'cause I've never listened to Son Volt's stuff).

Wilco has quickly moved away from Uncle Tupelo's country roots into what can only be described as electronica crossed with Neil Young. If Young played around with electronica (like contemporary electronica, not that stuff he did on Trans), you'd have what Wilco does: bizarre blips and squiggles, distorted guitar with the gain turned all the way up, and occasional strummed acoustics and pianos that soothe and lilt. Good stuff. They've evolved in a logical fashion from one album to the next, even if that evolution is surprising in its rapidity (over the course of five albums, their sound has completely altered. You go back and listen to A.M., then listen to A Ghost is Born. It's like two different bands).

Ryan Adams has likewise moved away from the sound he perfected with Whiskeytown. Over the course of five albums, though, he's genrehopped as though he were on speed, going in new directions with seemingly no rhyme or reason other than his own personal whim. His latest album, Cold Roses, has actually returned to the Whiskeytown sound: well-crafted country-rock tunes that are tight, warm, and a pleasure to listen to. But he's also done some pop-rock, some garage/indie rock, and some mope rock in between the dissolution of Whiskeytown and Cold Roses.

There are notable similiarities between the two. Both are devoutees of the classic rock canon. They both know their stuff by heart, and they lovingly bring that sense of tradition and history to their music. The biggest difference between Wilco and Ryan Adams is in self-perception. Ryan Adams perceives himself as the next big thing, the heir apparent and successor to the throne. He loves attention, craves it, and one feels that part of his "enfant terrible schtick" (to quote All Music Guide) is designed purposely to keep all the focus on him. He wants to be one of the reverred names in rock and roll, and he tries so hard to find exactly where he fits in the great lineage that he's a bit overbearing. Cold Roses is actually a good album because for once he doesn't seem to be trying too hard; rather, he's playing music he's comfortable with, music that fits, and it comes across much more effectively.

Essentially, Adams missed the memo that Wilco must have got--just make the music you want to make. If it's good, people will listen to it and like it. Wilco have pursued their own idiosynchratic muse over five albums and various side projects, and their dedication to their craft is admirable. They are simply going where the music leads them, and their joy at making the music they want to make simply because they like it means that there are many, many fans willing to follow them down whatever path they take.

They're both good, don't get me wrong, but Wilco's growth seems to be the result of natural expansion and evolution, whereas Adams' seems to be the result of schizophrenia and a forced effort at expansion of expression.

I've no idea where all this was going or came from, but I've been listening to Wilco and Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams and Neil Young all week, so this sort of rambling is only to be expected.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "I am trying to break your heart"

"His Master's Voice Is Calling Me"

Damn, yesterday was a long day. Had to be at bacheloreatte (or however the hell it's spelt) at 9.00 in the morning, and that was followed immediately by standing outside in the sun and heat for 2 1/2 hours for graduation. Then we had to pack Clif's stuff up and load it all up in the cars (he lives up on the third floor, of course). Then we had to drive back to Shawnee and unload everything, and then I got to jump right back in the car and drive back to Norman. Needless to say, I was exhausted yesterday, and I'm not really all that much better today.

On the positive side, I got to see my brother graduate, and I got to see a few friends (like Amanda E.) whom I was not expecting to get to see. My camera is full of pictures of various friends and family members, many of which I'll post here tonight or tomorrow. For now, I'm stuck at work (of course, I'm literally the only person here. I'm a little surprised that I didn't trip some sort of alarm and that security isn't here asking me what the hell I'm doing). All the doors downstairs were locked when I got here, so I propped a door open for the three or four students who are supposed to show up today to finish up their papers. At least the climate control finally kicked in--when I got here, it was starting to get warm and stuffy, but the AC unit kicked on about ten, fifteen minutes ago, and it's downright tolerable in here now.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Mississippi"

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Live From Casa De Monkey

Sitting in Clarksville at the moment. Clif graduates in the morning. Realizing this may be the last trip of this nature I ever make to this place. Kinda sad about that. But on the positive end, I'm excited about Clif finishing up his bachelor's degree. Just wish I could get a day to sleep in and recover from the past two weeks. Sadly, this is not to be--have to wake up early tomorrow to hear Clif play his tuba at baccalaureate (which was probably horribly misspelt, but I don't really care at this point), then graduation, then pack Clif up and drive home. Then I have to head straight back to Norman so I can work 8-5 Sunday (by myself, I might add). Then I work 8-12.30 Monday. I'll finally get a day to sleep in Tuesday.

In other news, I don't deserve to have Wendy as a friend. She's too damn good for me. I mean, she's done more research on jobs for me in the past week than I've managed all semester. This woman is a machine. It feels good to have someone genuinely interested in having me near them that much, though.

Anyway, off for sleep.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Company in my Back"

Friday, May 13, 2005

"GIve Back The Keys To My Heart"

A quick note, then I'm out the door for Arkansas and Clif's college graduation.

Today marks the 300th Crooked Halo comic on the Dim Bulb site. We started the Keenspace version of the site almost 2 years ago, and we're still moving strong. Our numbers may not be what I'd hoped they'd be by this point, but we've got well over 100 regular readersand we haven't managed to alienate the fanbase (i.e., Adam's mom), which makes me wonder if maybe we're not doing something right.

Right. I'm off. I'll be back tomorrow with embarrassing pictures of my brother in a cap and gown.


Song of the Moment: Uncle Tupelo, "Acuff Rose"

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"I Was Lyin' In A Burned-Out Basement"

Got my work schedule for the rest of the month today. Between this Sunday and the end of the month, I work a grand total of 36 hours. Y'know, what I usually work in a regular week. I'd forgotten how much I hate intersession schedules.

In other news, Peter Travers broke my heart with his review of Revenge of the Sith. Which won't stop me from going to see the movie, of course, but something he said did remind me of something I read back in 1999, when they were just getting ready to put out Phantom Menace. John Williams, the only man related to Star Wars who has never disappointed me, was talking about how he did the music to the films. He and George Lucas apparently think of the Star Wars films as essentially silent movies, with the music there to lend emotion and tension to the images. It would certainly explain Lucas' tin ear when it comes to writing dialogue.


Song of the Moment: Neil Young, "Southern Man"

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

"Gold Teeth And A Curse For This Town"

I registered to take the Praxis II today. There's another $115 I won't see again soon. I have to take it up in Stillwater, which is fine I guess (I'll just go crash with the grandparents the night before). The only real problem is that the test starts at 7.30 in the morning. On a Saturday. What I don't understand is why the Praxis II can't be an online test like the Praxis I was. They obviously have the technology and resources to do the Praxis II in the same fashion, yet they cling to outmoded test models, like pencil and paper at a set time. And the test is only offered like six times a year. You can't tell me that makes any sense.

But I'm registered for it, so a month from today I'll find myself sitting in a room at OSU, taking a test that probably won't tax my brain anymore than remembering the chords to the Who's "Squeeze Box" (G, C, and D, in case you were curious). But it's necessary and it'll get me what I want, so I guess it's worth it.

Have errands to run this afternoon...well, one errand, actually. Still need to go to Kinko's and get a nice, big copy of Repin's Barge-Haulers on the Volga made up for Dr. Dippel. This is assuming that (1) I can find Kinko's (I couldn't yesterday, for some reason), and (2) I remember to bring my little memory stick thingie that the image is saved on.

Yeah, that's about it, other than the fact that I did laundry last night. This worked to everyone's benefit, because it means I didn't have to come to work naked today.


Song of the Moment: The Shins, "Caring is Creepy"

Monday, May 09, 2005

"And If You Took To Me Like A Gull Takes To The Wind"

I was thinking earlier this afternoon about where I am in life right now. I know I do the whole "state of life" thing all too often, but it just sorta happens when you're in a transition period, y'know?

When I came to OU, I wasn't happy about it. I was, actually, quite miserable and not at all pleased with coming to this school to get my Master's degree. Part of the problem was that I feared I would never escape; I believed that if I stayed in Oklahoma for even a couple of years to get this degree, I'd never get to leave. Not leaving this place has been my greatest fear for the past almost three years. It sapped my enthusiasm, it stole my drive, it rendered me incapable of getting things accomplished at anything like the speed I should have been capable of. Things were just bleak. I look back over the things I wrote during that time, in terms of stories, songs, blog entries...I was seriously depressed and didn't even realize it most of the time. Yes, there were some good moments, and I have some wonderful friends whom I would not have met if I'd not come here, and I've loved my job for the most part. Coming here was good in several ways, even if it wasn't ideally what I'd wanted.

So everything happens for a reason, right? There's an ultimate purpose behind everything that happens, I believe. It's sorta that whole predestination thing that Presbyterians are supposed to believe in that I've never really been all that comfortable with (well, not in terms of it defining whether a person is "saved" or not. I still think there's some human element to that, and free will and all that). But everything happens for a reason, I think. I just don't see the world as a totally random place where things happen by chance. That doesn't jive with my view of reality. So I guess I was here for a reason. Maybe it was to teach me patience. Maybe it was so I'd have a place to be until I could go where I needed to go. Maybe it just allowed me to grow up a little bit (which I think I definitely needed), and showed me what was really important and what wasn't.

And now I'm ready to leave. I am leaving, in just over two months. And there was a sense of joy to that thought as I left my apartment this afternoon for work, but also a sense of sadness that I had not expected. I've somehow, against my will and better judgment, become attached to this place. Part of it is simply that OU and Norman are familiar now. I'm used to this place, I've grown comfortable with it, and going to a new place means learning a new place. While that's exciting, it's also frightening.

But really I have mostly optimistic feelings about leaving in July. I think my time here at OU has been well-spent, for the most part. I look forward to where I'm going next, and several friends in the Virginia/Maryland area seem to have created a Chuck-shaped hole for me to fill upon my arrival. Having a place to belong always goes a long way towards helping me acclimate, so I'm sure I'll have no trouble settling in in Virginia.

For once in the past three years, I have an overwhelming sense of hope for the future. I'm excited about what comes next, even though I really don't fully know what it'll be. A month or two ago, not knowing what's coming next scared me to death. Now it has a feeling of liberation and promise.


Song of the Moment: The Shins, "New Slang"

"Life Informing Art Informing Life Again"

It seems the in thing to reference Websnark nowadays. I've seen it mentioned in two Keenspot newsboxes in the past week, and it's been referenced in several comics as well. It's interesting to see a critique site receive such attention in the community.

The growth of Websnark over the past nine months or so has been fun to watch. Ping got me interested in the site initially, mentioning it somewhere (probably Webcomic Finds) in glowing terms. Eric Burns' site has grown by exponential leaps and bounds since then, as has webcomic criticism in general. Several blogs of various styles, approaches, and levels of credibility/sensibility have cropped up, all of them devoted primarily to the discussion and critique of webcomics. It's an interesting trend.

Anyway, I don't really have any deep thoughts on the subject, I just thought it worth mentioning. I'm always curious about when or why a certain trend develops, and the rise of webcomic criticism strikes me as a particularly worthwhile trend. We need webcomic criticism. One of the problems "legitimate" cartoonists seem to have with the web is the complete lack of editorial oversight or valid criticism. Folks think that if it's on the web, there's no one actually checking to ensure quality. Well, folks like Eric Burns are proving that untrue. There's a whole gaggle of webcomic critics out there now, people who are writing and thinking about webcomics in a legitimate and worthwhile way. And this, in a sense, legitimizes webcomics. It helps cartoonists aspire to higher standards of art, story, etc. It helps push boundaries just a little more, but in a good way. We're forced to work just a little bit harder, and that will benefit everyone.


Song of the Moment: Glen Phillips, "Train Wreck"

Sunday, May 08, 2005

"Nowhere Man Can You See Me At All?"

The weekend did not last long enough. Thursday after work, I went straight up to my grandparents' place, where I crashed for the night to avoid having to drive clear from Norman to Alva Friday morning (which would be followed by loading all Scott's crap and then driving back to Shawnee). That would've made for too long of a day. Cutting a good two hours of driving out helped, though I was still dead tired the whole day and drowsy for the drive home. Mom and I did stop at the Hideaway in Stillwater on the way home for dinner (best pizza ever). Scott would've been with us, but apparently the runt had a date Friday night, so he stayed in Alva and came home yesterday afternoon.

Spent Friday night playing guitar with dad. He showed a couple more songs (including Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," which was much easier to play than I'd imagined) and seemed rather impressed with my improvement. It was a lot of fun, actually, though my legs hurt from sitting on the floor with the guitar in my lap for two hours.

Saturday, I came back to Norman and then went with Ev to our coworker Amy's place. Amy is teaching an intersession course on the Female Hero in Fantasy and wanted to do a trial run of one of her lectures. Several hours later, we'd done the lecture, chatted, listened to some music that Amy thought I'd like (which I did, actually), and basically spent about six hours there. Ev and I came home, and I finished watching Firefly.

I actually want to yak for a bit about that series. I got the DVDs last weekend, and I've already finished all 14 episodes. The original impetous for getting the collection was seeing the trailer for Serenity, the Firefly movie, before Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last weekend. The trailer got me hooked, and the series was as good--if not better--than I imagined it would be.

I'm a little sad I wasn't watching this show when it was actually on TV, though I get the feeling I may not have liked it as much--they aired shows out of order, editted and cut them all to hell, and didn't even air three episodes. And the show never really got a chance to resolve any of the big issues/questions it raised. None of them. Characters still had huge mysteries to them, things were just starting to really happen, and the series was cancelled. Stupid FOX. But I, like many people, have high hopes for the movie and even the possibility of another season of the show if the movie does well. Of course, I'm annoyed that I have to wait until like September to see the flick. That's pretty damn annoying.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "What Goes On"

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"An Abundance Of Inherited Sadness"

So I told mom I was moving to Virginia today (no, not moving today, but told her today that I would be moving). She actually took it rather well. At least she and dad are going to help me move when the time comes (thank God for that, 'cause Lord knows it'd be tough to carry everything myself and drive all the way to Virginia by myself).

Went and saw my friend Libbie in a production of Midsummer Night's Dream this evening. It was a rather interesting student production, very streamlined (they took out all the scenes with Thesious and the players, but managed to still make the play work in a way that made sense), and exceptionally enjoyable. Libbie, a pixie-like waif anyway, played an adorably impish Puck. The twist of the play was that it was punk--they had snippets of old-school punk music for interludes, and everyon dressed in contemporary punk fashion (lots of black, spikes, etc.). I'm glad I got a chance to catch the show.

I'm completely worn out right now. I don't know how I'm still functioning, but I am (barely). I'm glad I only have a short work day tomorrow. After work, though, I'm driving up to Ponca City to crash with my grandparents, and Friday mom and I are going to Alva to help Scott move out of the dorm (the kid apparently has a lot of crap).


Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "Easy Plateau"

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"You've Got A Lot Of Nerve"

I'm stuck at work until at least midnight tonight. Ugh. Why did I volunteer to do this? Oh yeah, money.

I just finished reading a paper arguing against same sex marriage. Regardless of your position on the matter, this thing was so poorly written, so jumbled in its arguments and syntax, that it'd make you want to not only support gay marriage, but become homosexual and find yourself a partner of the same sex to marry just to spite the Darwin Awards posterchild who wrote it. It was that bad. I honestly think that paper was the best argument in favor of same sex marriage I've ever seen. It said, "hey, look at me, I'm poorly written and against same sex marriage! You don't want to be associated with me, do you?" No, no you don't.

So yeah, this is boring. Anyone who wishes to keep me entertained may now call and do so.


Song of the Moment: Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"

"That Ol' Hounddog Sat Right Down And Cried"

I had to cut my walk short this afternoon because I was being followed by a dog.

Let me clarify--I'm not afraid of dogs. Never have been, really. I figure any dog big enough to really cause me any trouble would be easily put down by a swift kick to the unmentionables. No, this was just a stray dog that kept following me around the neighborhood. It's happened before, and it annoys me to no end: first, because even if I don't like dogs, I don't really want them getting run over, either; and second, since the damn thing is following me around, everyone assumes it's mine and chews me out for the stupid crap it does (like running out in front of cars). I yell at the dog, I tell it to away, I threaten it with a rolled-up newspaper (well, rolled-up junkmail thing, but close enough), and the damn thing keeps following me. It's not threatening me, so I feel bad about just kicking it or something.

It had a collar, but there was no address or name or anything on it, just a tag indicating it'd had its rabies shots (thank goodness for that, at least). Ah well, it'll probably be gone tomorrow, and I won't have to worry about it. If it's not gone, I'm calling animal control.


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

Monday, May 02, 2005

"It's Getting Better All The Time"

So the afternoon was significantly better than the morning. I got back into my apartment with a minimum of difficulty, and found out I can sign up for a temporary lease through July 31st, which is perfect. Need to go to Housing tomorrow to take care of that while I still can.

Also got a call from Wen, who asked if I wanted to move in with her and Tim. They've been thinking about getting a townhouse, which would be too expensive just for the two of them, but with a roommate would be perfect. She also said something about "never having to worry about cooking" for myself if I moved in with them, and the notion that someone will feed me on a daily basis is just really appealing.

Spent the afternoon (when not chatting with Wen) running a couple of errands. I needed a new ink cartridge for my printer for a project I'm working on, and I also needed some mechanical pencils. Also grabbed the Nadesico movie, Prince of Darkness, which I watched before I came back to work. Quality stuff, even if it really doesn't resolve anything at all (of course, the series ended with so many unanswered questions, it's not really surprising that the film did anything else).

So yeah, the day's been getting better. I look forward to today ending, though.


Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "Getting Better"

"Open The Door, Richard"

So I managed to lock myself out of the apartment this morning. Again. This is an annoying trend--I only locked myself out once in my first two and a half years there, and this is the second time I've managed it this semester. Blah.

On top of that, it's raining. Rain in and of itself wouldn't be so bad, except I don't own an umbrella and have to walk to work. Which sucks, lemme tell ya. At least it was cold, so wearing my jacket didn't get me overheated or anything.

This basically feels like one of those quintessential Mondays, the sort of days that make you want to just crawl back into bed and ignore the world.

Meh. On the positive side, I've decided I'm moving to Virginia. Just sorta...decided that last night. So yeah.


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

Sunday, May 01, 2005

"Ryan Adams - Rock 'N' Roll"

A lot of critics complain that Ryan Adams releases too many albums. The man thinks nothing of cranking out two albums a year, and that's really not even all the material he recorded even. The man writes songs in an effortless way, as though not getting these ideas out would be painful to him.

And critics complain. His label complains, mostly because he keeps coming up with stuff that they think doesn't fit their target demographic. Mostly, they all complain because he's just releasing too many albums.

Which is ridiculous, really--back in the early '60s, artists thought nothing of releasing a couple of albums per year, and sometimes more. Look at the Beatles--they cranked out 13 albums in the space of 7 years. In 1967, they released Sgt. Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour, arguably their two most complex albums, and no one batted an eye--no, rather, folks were excited about getting another Beatles album.

But people have gotten used to bands waiting years in between albums now. A band could wait three, four, five years between releases, and no one would bat an eye. It's ironic that in this day of such short pop stardom and even shorter audience attention spans, artists are willing (or have) to wait so long in between albums. But Ryan Adams refuses to wait, and so he puts out albums as often as he can convince his label to let him.

Rock 'N' Roll came out late in 2003, the stop-gap emergency replacement of Adams' mope-rock homage Love is Hell. Rock 'N' Roll is his take on garage and indie rock, and he yelps, growls, and rocks his way through fourteen songs here. This isn't really the sort of album his label, Lost Highway, was expecting out of him (of course, neither was Love is Hell). I mean, this was the alt-country badboy behind Whiskeytown. That was the sort of music he was supposed to be making. But Jeff Tweey and Wilco never stuck to playing the same ol' same ol', so Ryan Adams decided he didn't have to, either.

Really, Rock 'N' Roll isn't a bad album, per se. It's full of throw-away phrases and even entire songs, but they ahve a charm all their own. This is a glam-filled look at disposable rock, at songs that are meant to thrash about and make a lot of noise for three or four minutes, then it's on to the next. The album has been criticized for having the form but not the substance, and I think that rather misses the point--this is about the style, not about making some powerful statement. It's a genre exercise, just as Love is Hell is a genre exercise. Rock 'N' Roll works fairly well in that regard, but it's not a particularly memorable album. It's fun while it's spinning, but afterwards, you have the urge to put on something like Whiskeytown's Pneumonia and remind yourself of what Adams sounds like when he's making music with heart rather than aping someone else's schtick.

Ultimately, that's what makes Rock 'N' Roll less than it could be--not the lack of substance (hell, 90% of all rock and roll lacks substance beyond "hey baby, wanna go back to my place and have dirty monkey sex?"), but the sense that Adams is consciously trying to sound like other people. Even in copying other people's styles, he's really only getting the form rather than the substance of the actual music. He's missing what makes those styles interesting and just mimicking the surface sound. This makes for a fun, shallow record, but not for a great one. On the few songs where Adams seems to forget his pretensions and actually gets involved in the music, it's actually quite good--he's still a consumate musician and songcrafter, and he has passion when he lets himself go. It's just that, for too much of the album, he doesn't.

On the other hand, the album he has coming out on Tuesday, Cold Roses, is a return to alt-country form, making the previous two or three albums feel like a strange divergence. The new double-record is available from Adams' website as a free streaming audio, and I recommend it very highly. Adams actually sounds like he's involved in the music rather than going through motions, and that's good news for everyone.


Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "1974"