Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is it really all that "New" anymore?

Well, looks like New Hampshire is going to allow broad same-sex civil unions, making New England (as the Washington Post article points out) the first region in the U.S. to have every state grant some measure of the right to gays and lesbians.

I really hope the New England tourist board (if there is such an organization) makes New England's new slogan "New England: it's okay to be gay."


Song of the Moment: The White Stripes, "Blue Orchid"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Last Thoughts on News Radio

So Michelle and I have been watching Season 5 of News Radio this past week or so, and I've reached several conclusions (spoilers below, but I figure a TV show that ended almost 10 years ago is beyond the statute of limitations at this point).

1) The lose of Phil Hartman hangs over the final season like a tangible thing. Honestly, every time Jon Lovitz opened his mouth, I found myself thinking, "Phil Hartman would've delivered that so much better." The first few episodes of the season were noticeably awkward because they were heavy on the Lovitz character, but as the season progressed they pulled it away from him and focused on other characters. The show benefited from this. After all, Phil Hartman's character may have been funny as hell, but he wasn't the main focus on the show. Regardless, his absence really affected the tone of the show and sort of killed the joy in it from the very beginning.

2) This season seems really heavy on Andy Dick's Matthew instead. And while Matthew is fine as the weird character, he really can't sustain an entire episode very easily. Honestly, the main character of the show seemed to me to be Dave. He was certainly the character you were usually meant to identify with. The fourth season did the whole long storyarch on Matthew (the whole firing and rehiring thing), but the focus always seemed to be less about poor Matthew and more about how Dave was doing his best to get Matthew back at the station. The shift in focus hurt several episodes.

3) The writing, while still strong, just...wasn't as good as previous seasons. Dialogue wasn't as snappy or smart, plots weren't as interesting, and characterization didn't jive with previous seasons as well. New characters, such as Lovitz's Max Lewis or Patric Warburton's Johnny Johnson, weren't very developed. And familiar characters didn't behave in ways that made sense. Lisa deciding to marry Johnny was mere plot contrivance, not something the character would have probably done.

4) The season--and series--didn't end convincingly or satisfyingly. Everyone but Dave decides to head off to New Hampshire? Well, everyone but Dave and was a funny throw-away joke, since Matthew was the only character Dave really wanted leaving, but to end the series that way? No satisfaction in that sort of sadism at all.

Anyway, there were some fun moments. The exchanges between Jimmy and Johnny were great; the storyline about Jimmy allegedly being D.B. Cooper (the infamous plane hijacker who jumped from a plane with $200,000 and was never seen again) but ultimately proving that it was Adam West? Stroke of brilliance. The elements were still there, but everything seemed just the slightest bit off. As a completest, I was glad to add it to my collection, but when I reach for a season of News Radio to watch at random, it won't be this one.


Song of the Moment: Hem, "It's Not California"

Monday, April 23, 2007

"These Hippies Sound Like You Guys"

It's been a crazy week and some. Lots of interesting things to share:

1) Michelle is totally alive still. She's still a little weak and gets worn out easily, but she's on the mend and went back to work today.

2) I found out I'm teaching summer school, so that's groovy. Extra income, hurray!

3) I caught a mouse at the school Saturday night while Shirley and I were working on a project for class. I felt very manly.

4) My tablet arrived in the mail today. Chuck is a happy monkey.

That really sums up the cool stuff. I'm totally gonna have some comics drawn this week.


Song of the Moment: Rufus Wainwright, "Chelsea Hotel #2"

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ode To Gallager

My home state is just freakin' weird.

Granted, Oklahoma is the state where the state bird is migratory, the state song is a show tune, the state plant is a parasite, and the state fruit won't even grow there.

Now that I think of it, the watermelon as state vegetable makes perfect sense (though I always assumed the state vegetable was your average OU Sooners football fan).


Song of the Moment: Hem, "You Came To Meet Me"

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Sailors Sailin' Off In The Morning"

Michelle's came down ill this morning, feeling dizzy and faint and feverish with a sore throat and tightness in the chest. She went home immediately after reaching her office, and I came home after second period to take her to the doctor's office. Turns out she's got tonsillitis and bronchitis, which is loads of fun. So we both took the rest of the day off, her to rest and me to take care of her. Dunno how she'll be feeling tomorrow, but she's on antibiotics and is currently napping.

Our taking the day off meant we were home to watch the news about the shootings at Virginia Tech that took place today. It's just mind-blowing, thinking about the thirty-odd college kids who were killed today.

It's looking like the authorities in charge of the whole situation are under heavy fire from all sides for their handling of the murder investigations. The fact that there were two separate incidents--a double-homicide at 7.15 and the larger group massacre around 9.30--but that the administration did not lock down campus after the first incident is just bizarre. As the details of this case become clearer in the coming weeks, I hope it all starts to make sense...well, as much sense as something like this can make.


Song of the Moment: Charlie Sexton, "Regular Grind"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Is There Just A Little Room?"

So the Great Music Exchange of '07 (pronounced "Aught Seven") was fantastic. We ended up with over 3700 new songs from Chad and Emily, which is a hell of a lot of music to now try to assimilate. We got everything from Morrissey and the Smiths to David Bowie, Jesse Malin, and everything in between. Sooo much music.

We also discovered I'd been charged for an extra month on eMusic, so I had 75 more downloads to use there. Burned through those in about five minutes this morning.

So yeah, lots of new music. Chuck a very happy monkey.

Yesterday we had a leak in the ceiling in the kitchen. Apparently the bathtub upstairs decided to leak into the kitchen after three of us took showers yesterday morning. They sent a guy out to fix it, so we'll have to see how that went.

Coincidentally, the ceiling of the breakfast nook at Michelle's parents' house apparently caved in this morning for similar reasons (though I think it was the toilet leaking there that did the deed). So that's rather odd timing.

Beyond that, it's a dreary gray day here in Northern Virginia. It started raining yesterday afternoon, but it's just continued virtually unabated since then. That's the thing about Virginia weather compared to Oklahoma weather: in Oklahoma, it comes bursts, beginning and ending so fast you hardly noticed it happened. Here in Virginia, weather hangs around, reads your newspaper, asks if there's any pie left that it could have. Things like that.


Song of the Moment: The Clash, "Rudy Can't Fail"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"If You Wanna Ramble"

Yesterday was Soap Box Night, the annual school talent show. It went pretty well: there weren't any glaring technological issues, most of the acts went off without a hitch, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves pretty well. I did three acts: a song with my co-teacher, Jeremy, another song with a couple of students and a couple of teachers (the song was in Turkish; luckily for everyone involved, I was only playing rhythm guitar there), and a skit with a couple of other teachers. The second act I was in--the one with the students and teachers--went a little awry, mostly because the student playing drums got a little over-enthusiastic. You couldn't hear the rest of us very well. It wouldn't have been as much of a problem if he'd played the right beat, but he was playing something completely unrelated from the actual song, so I was off-tempo, the student playing lead was off-tempo, and the two teachers singing had no clue where they were. It was rather awkward, I'm afraid.

Tonight is the night of the Great Music Exchange. We've got Chad, Lauren, Emily, and Lauren's brother gathered here, ready to trade music back and forth across computers. It's very exciting.


Song of the Moment: The Flaming Lips, "Knives Out (Live)"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Looking For A Black Cat...

Happy Friday the 13th, folks. It's pretty quiet here at school, despite the impending Soap Box Night tonight (our annual talent show). I'm participating in a couple of acts, mostly playing my guitar (once for myself, once for a fellow teacher). The students are excited, but it's still pretty low-key.

Weekend's gonna be full of stuff and goings-on. We're helping Michelle's father set up an awning thing on his deck tomorrow during the day, and we're doing the Great Music Exchange of '07 tomorrow night with Emily (the idea being that we've all got really great stuff that the others want to hear, so we're gonna do a little trading. Good times). Sunday is possibly given over to visiting with one of Michelle's friends who is in town this weekend from Boston.

Had a busy but rewarding Spring Break. Car ended up costing about $2100 overall for all the various repairs effected to it. Dad's visit went well, but it was exhausting. I saw a great concert--Sean Lennon--last Saturday and another great show--Jesse Malin--on Monday. Rock.


Song of the Moment: Camera Obscura, "If Looks Could Kill"

Friday, April 06, 2007

"'Cause I'm The Taxman"

So my federal income tax refund this year is going to be a little over $900.

This is, I should say, rather groovy.

And almost makes up for all the money I've had to spend on my car since last week.



Song of the Moment: The Traveling Wilburys, "Nobody's Child"

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

I only started listening to the Decemberists a couple of months ago. I started with their first record, Castaways and Cutouts, I've started kinda working my way forward.

'Cept I kinda skipped ahead a bit and picked up their latest record, The Crane Wife, last week.

Sometime between that first record and the latest one, the Decemberists discovered a couple of things: 1) an electric guitar, and 2) the work of Styx circa "Lady."

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Their 1870s meets 1970s aesthetic actually works for the most part on this record. Thematically, it's a loose song cycle based on a Japanese folk tale involving a man who takes a crane woman as his wife. The album includes two lengthy multipart songs: "The Crane Wife," which is broken up into "Part 3" (which opens the album) and "Part 1 & 2" (which comes near the end of the record), and "The Island," a track that sounds something like a prog rock epic about immigration, class struggle, dueling, and drowning. "The Island" features a section that nicks the warblely synth line from "Band on the Run," with the twist that it's performed by a string quartet. Part of "Come and See," the first section of "The Island," sound like something out of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer or post-Tommy Shaw Styx.

But lest you think it's all epic-length story songs, fear not: the Decemberists can knock together a folky, poppy song in the 3-4 minute range with ease and poise. "Yankee Bayonet" is an effortless, sprightly tune about...well, a Civil War soldier and his lady love. "The Perfect Crime No. 2" races along breathlessly. "Shankill Butchers" is a creepy, old-fashioned "keep the kids in line" lullaby with a slow, stuttered rhythm. "Sons and Daughters" closes the record with a sweet, folky surge and a note of hope.

The album really holds together well as a whole, though "The Island" does drag after awhile and "The Crane Wife" could've been condensed to one part rather than three. But really, it's a solid collection. The songs are strong and evidence a growth and a great sense of songcraft. It's not for everyone--not everyone is gonna groove on subject matter mostly drawn from the 19th century--but for those that can dig into it, it's a very rewarding listen.


Song of the Moment: The Decemberists, "The Perfect Crime No. 2"

"All Winterlong"

So apparently someone didn't get the memo that it's spring now, 'cause it was snowing in Kansas yesterday.

My car is once again in my possession. Let's see if we can't maybe keep it there and running for awhile now, shall we?

Time is fast running out on the remainder of my spring break. Seems like it used to last longer when I was a child.

Got the new Kings of Leon CD yesterday. Thoughts on that and the latest album by The Decemberists later.


Song of the Moment: Neil Young, "Tell Me Why (Live)"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Corporate Love Breakdown - The Radiohead Bluegrass Tribute

I'm wary of tribute albums, regardless of their nature or genre. I'm especially wary of the ones made in tribute to bands that've only been around for a few years or put out just a couple of albums. Seriously, do we need a Pickin' on John Mayer CD? Especially when it doesn't sound all that different from how he played anyway (the one advantage of that CD is that it does remove one of the most annoying aspect of John Mayer's music: his singing. Now if we could just remove the rest of the music and replace it with something interesting)?

I remember when the tribute album trend started. It began with symphonic tributes to 60s and 70s acts: the Beatles, Yes, the Moody Blues (distinctly lacking the spoken-word poem crap), etc. It was fairly tasteful if kinda bland. There didn't seem to be a point to it, unless you happened to own a grocery store and needed some new muzak.

But we've broadened our horizons since then. It's not all string quartets and philharmonic orchestral tributes (though those are still in ample evidence, I fear). No, now we're bending genres and styles even further.

Which is why when Michelle and I found a CD that referred to itself as a bluegrass tribute to Radiohead, the British-guitar-rock-turned-electronica-experimenters-turned-general-badasses, we were curious. Off-puttingly curious. "It can't possibly work," we said; and "we have to have it! Just for the kitsch value!"

And thus it came as a shock when, upon hearing the CD, it turns out this stuff is actually really good.

The album itself is actually a really interesting exercise in blending slight electronica touches to bluegrass instruments (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo). The results are definitely listenable and recognizable, but the musicians responsible for this record have made each song their own. incorporating the fuzzed-out bassline from "The National Anthem" into a bluegrass version of the song is unsettling at first, but it ultimately works. The folks playing this songs have not only a firm grasp of their instruments, but a real reverence and understanding of the source material. "2+2=5" comes across as just as sinister when the vocals are played by a fiddle as they do when Thom Yorke sings them. "Fake Plastic Trees" is touching and sad as the original. "Knives Out" comes across as a plaintive dirge rather than a sinister threat. "Myxomatosis" is just as bizarre and creepy as the Radiohead version, and the heavy exhalation thing that one of the musicians does ups the weirdness factor in just the right way.

This collection isn't for everyone or for listening to all the time. It is worth a listen, but it's probably not of interest to anyone except those who really like Radiohead and bluegrass and wondered what the two would sound like together. Despite being aimed at such a small niche population, it's an interesting and almost fun collection.

"Hello Cowgirl In The Sand"

Dad and Vivian left this morning to head back home. Their visit went well, despite a few setbacks:

(1) No parking available at the Springfield Metro Monday, so we couldn't go to DC then. We decided to head to Shenandoah National Park instead. Which led us to

(2) My car decided leaking all of the coolant out all over the pavement again would be a good idea. Turns out my car needs new radiator.

So we went to DC yesterday instead (Dad drove), my car is in the shop again getting repaired, and I'm going to be out another $500. Good thing Michelle's paycheck cleared overnight.

Dad's visit was good beyond that, though. We had dinner with Michelle's family last night, and her father and mine seemed to get along pretty well.

The presents Michelle bought for my birthday finally arrived in the mail yesterday. She got me some cool stuff: the first two volumes of Warren Eliis's Transmetropolitan, the two new Neil Young live archival releases (from Massey Hall and Fillmore East), and the bluegrass tribute to Radiohead (much cooler than you'd think). Dad got me a toolbox chock-full o' useful tools, such as wrenches and pliers and a hammer and screwdrivers and a cordless power drill (which is gonna be lots of fun). So that was pretty groovy.

Anyway, the day so far has been spent doing a whole lot of nothing. I think I'm going to work on organizing the bedroom this afternoon. We'll just have to see.


Song of the Moment: Neil Young, "Old Man (Live)"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"You are certainly doomed by my math!"

Getting ready to have a Meeting of the Parents (TM) dinner. It should be...interesting, to say the least, what with Michelle's very New York parents and my very Midwestern father and his girlfriend (whom I keep accidentally calling "Vicky" instead of "Vivian." She seems to find it funny, at least).

We spent the day in DC doing the tourist thing. Dad and Vivian seemed to enjoy themselves, and we walked a good 4 miles.

Bizarre moment of the day: explaining to my father how iTunes worked and why it was important to have almost 30 days' worth of music on my computer.

In case I, y'know, want to sit in a room for a month straight and never sleep and do nothing but listen to music. Yeah.

We're off! Wish me luck.


Song of the Moment: White Stripes, "Hotel Yorba (Live)"