Saturday, November 26, 2005

"You Went To Bed With Your Darkest Mind"

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"When The Devil Came, He Was Not Red"

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wilco - Kicking Television - Live in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Where Are You Tonight Sweet Marie?"

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"He's Here To Rectify"

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Jokers To The Right"

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, November 07, 2005

Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic, Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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


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

"Like A Blister In The Sun"

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

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

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


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

Sunday, November 06, 2005

"A NIght At The Opera"

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Six-String Belief"

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

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

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

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

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


Song of the Moment: Placebo, "Pure Morning"