Thursday, May 31, 2007

Open Letter

Dear Reality,

Please stop dumping storms of shit on my friends now, 'kay? I'm married to a woman with mob connections, and I will not hesitate to have them take out your kneecaps. Thanks.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Misadventures Abound

So much happens in 24 hours.

The barbecue at the in-laws' place was good. Friends, family, and food are always a great combination as far as I'm concerned. We had Michelle and her sisters, Emily, Lauren, and myself all crammed around the dining room table with Michelle's parents. Good times.

Chad was supposed to have joined us, but someone decided to steal his car, so that became problematic. We're still trying to figure out why someone decided to steal his car out of the parking lot, since Dodge Neons are not really high up on the list of cars likely to get jacked (especially when there are some really nice cars and such in the parking lot of his complex. Strange but true). We spent a good part of last night cheering Chad up and getting him really, really drunk (3/4 of a bottle of decent white wine did the trick).

Didn't get much sleep last night. Maybe two and a half hours. I'd blame Michelle, but it's probably my fault for responding when she asks a question instead of pretending I've already fallen asleep. We talked until about 3:00 or so about all sorts of stuff, and then I nodded off for a couple of hours before dragging myself out of bed to face the 14 hour day I now get to go through (I hate the Tuesday night classes, I really do). Michelle apparently didn't get any sleep at all, which is just peachy.

Anyway, off to class. If I don't post again for awhile, it's because I got tired of the asshole who's teaching the course and killed him. Let me know if you're privy to any good places to bury a body.


Song of the Moment: Neko Case, "Star Witness"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon"

Three-day weekends are arguably the best weekends.

It's been hectic around here, what with trying to get all the end-of-the-school-year stuff crammed into students who have already checked out mentally, Michelle getting sick every other week, and the dozen or so other commitments we have placed on our meager free time.

That, and we've been watching a heckuva mess of Scrubs. All five season sets, in fact, in the past three or four weeks. We sorta went a little Scrubs-happy. Also got all four seasons of Jeeves and Wooster on DVD. Damn you, clever British comedy based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse!

We've been trying to get the apartment in order this weekend. Things tend to fall apart rather quickly around here, mostly due to the fact that Michelle and I both have busy schedules and don't really want to do much in the evenings after we come home from work (well, except watch Scrubs). We're also kinda lazy.

Found out yesterday my father is getting remarried, this time to his current girlfriend (Vivian, who came up with dad to visit me back in early April). Part of me is surprised by this move, but part of me saw it coming ages ago. Still not really sure how I feel about it, but I do know this: I definitely have to remember that her name isn't Vicky now (this was a problem I was having for awhile, mind you).

I've been teaching the students in my Humanities class about music history the past few weeks. It's been very successful, I feel. Most of them are really enjoying it, and the ones who aren't will enjoy the project we're starting at the end of next week (they'll be presenting their own favorite music to the class). I've been making mix CDs for them every few days, which they love, but it's a bit of a hassle on my part and something I want to make simpler if I do this again next year.

The idea I had for next year, actually, is to make these things available as podcasts. I figure, mostly (if not all) of my students have some sort of MP3 player and computer access. The students could go access the podcast playlist and have all the stuff I'm going to talk about.

I could even take it one step further: record all of my class lectures and make those available as podcasts. It'd be great: if a student didn't catch everything in a lecture of was absent one day, they could just go download the lecture and listen to it. I've already started talking with Shirley, the school's tech person, about the feasibility of getting a Blackboard site or something similar set up so we could do this.

Granted, I'm also going to have to make my lessons more structured and I'm going to have to plan ahead more for all of this. I'm thinking of taking some time this summer to plan out the entire school year for each class I'm teaching and get things put together ahead of time so I can get through my material at a better pace. Lord knows I've struggled with pacing stuff the past couple of years, especially in American History.

Barbecue tomorrow at Michelle's parents' place. I love me some hamburgers from the grill, that's for sure.


Song of the Moment: Rufus Wainwright, "Tulsa"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Gone Fishin'"

Michelle decided she wanted fish.

So now we've got fish. Lots of fish. Though they do seem to be dying quite quickly.

See, we started out yesterday just buying a betta (kinda like the Greek letter, only spelt differently) and stuff for that, but she decided she wanted more. We found a 30 gallon aquarium on Craigslist for less than $100, so this afternoon we drove out, picked up all the stuff (the folks gave us everything for it, including all the fish), and we've spent the evening getting it all set up and getting the fish in there. About half of them didn't survive the transfer to our place since they spent the trip over in a juice jug. But we've still got a fair crop of them left (about half). We'll see how they're doing come morning.

I've never really been partial to fish. Really never cared much for pets in general, mind you. They just never really mattered all that much, I guess. I mean, I like dogs and cats and everything, and they certainly like me (I'm convinced that animals can recognize who is and who is not an animal person and home in on them with alarming accuracy to punish, pester, and otherwise annoy), but I didn't have pets growing up and never really wanted them all that much.

We'll probably end up getting a cat this summer at some point, mostly because Michelle really misses having cats around. Exciting, yes?


Song of the Moment: Hem, "Not California"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Sky Blue Sky is an album of dichotomy and tension, it's just all buried underneath some of the mellowest music Jeff Tweedy and company have ever put to record.

The music, which blends the sonic template of A Ghost is Born with tunes that sound as though they could have been written during Being There, is straight-forward and eschews the arch artiness of the band's more recent work. The songs are generally mid-tempo, the instrumentation is basic (guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, etc.), and the melodies hint at something which could've come from their work on the Mermaid Avenue project. The sound and feel of Ghost remains with this record, even if the experimentalism is gone. Gone also are the odd sonic elements from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band's other watershed album. In their place we find clean, open production that takes a bit of the sonic palette from Ghost and applies it to the most direct batch of songs Tweedy has written since the band's first two albums.

There is an air of calm to these songs, a pop songcraft that finds the band playing as a genuine band instead of a collection of hired gun musicians chasing Tweedy's muse of the minute down the road. The record feels like the work of a cohesive group pulling together and putting to tape exactly what each song demands. Tracks like "Shake it Off" and "Hate it Here" sound like the sort of effortless pop song that Paul McCartney's made a career out of churning out. There are elements of the Band in these songs, too, especially in the organ that pops up occasionally (courtesy of Pat Sansone), the folky guitar strumming (from Tweedy and guitar hero Nels Cline), and the backing vocals on tunes like "What Light" (easily the best track on the record).

The dichotomy of the album becomes clear when you examine the lyrics. While the music sounds as though it comes from a place of peace, the lyrics often deal with issues of isolation, loneliness, and desperation. The themes of separation and removal (from society, from another person, from one's self) are repeated again and again across the lyrics, lending a bizarre sort of sadness to many of the songs. You feel as though Tweedy went through hell and came out the other side with these words, then married them to a collection of tunes that bely that darkness on purpose. This is music from beyond the despair, music about the redemption of the lost individual and the return from the wasteland with a kind of enlightenment.

That said, the record has an ebb and flow to it and a few weaker spots. I've read several reviews that call "Side With the Seeds" a standout track, but it really just sort of bores me with it's faux blue-eyed soul rhythm and vocal delivery. "Please be Patient with Me" is too slight to have much impact. But tracks like "Impossible Germany," the folky title track, the aforementioned "What Light" and "Hate it Here," the jauntily bouncing "Walken," and the elegiac closer "On and On and On" are all on par with anything the band's done.

Sky Blue Sky is a solid effort from a band that's still functioning in peak condition. While it may not be the go-to Wilco album (that still remains Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or SummerTeeth), it's certainly a worthy addition to their catalog and a record that's sure to grow on you with each repeated listen.


Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Walken"

"Happiness Is A Warm Gun"

Virginia is officially off it's damn nut.

The thing started when New York City started prosecuting several gun shops (six of which are in Virginia) over illegal and shady sales of guns later used in crimes in New York City. A sting operation in Virginia revealed that there's are plenty of ways to get around gun restrictions, and that Virginia's lax laws are especially easy to circumvent.

So the City of New York decides to prosecute a few of these gun shops for this, and now this gun-rights organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (whom the Washington Post referred to as a group that thinks the NRA is spineless and soft on gun laws) decides to hold a raffle to give away guns to help pay for the legal fees for the prosecuted gun shops.

Seriously, what the fuck?

What gets me is that this is still happening despite the tragedy at Virginia Tech last month. Even worse, the gun who heads up this collection of nuts thinks that if there'd been someone with a gun at Virginia Tech that day, they could've stopped Cho.

Again, what the fuck? How is arming college students while they are in class a good idea? How will that not lead to more tragedy?

I get awful sick of how these people hide behind supposed 2nd Amendment rights and use it to justify giving access to weapons to convicted felons and unstable personalities. A little history lesson, people: the emphasis of the Second Amendment is not on the right to bare arms, but on the right to form and maintain a militia for the "security of a free state." That means we can form volunteer armies, not that we can carry a high-powered assault rifle to class or down the street. The Founding Fathers didn't wear guns on their hips at all times. There was a time for war and for weapons; when that time passed, the weapons were hung back over the mantle and left to gather dust.

I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I hear about a gun-rights group advocating for their "Second Amendment right" to protect themselves. Bullshit. You have a right to form a volunteer army if we're invaded, not to sell guns to people who turn around and commit crimes with them. I swear, I thought I left this idiot mentality when I left Oklahoma.


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

Monday, May 14, 2007

What The Hell, Pitchfork?

I am, as I'll be the first to admit, a pretentious, elitist ass. Mostly it's that I think my taste or choice is superior to someone else's: music, movies, books, comics...I'm under the impression that my choices have more weight or validity than another person's.

But even I balk at Pitchfork.

Their recent review of the new Wilco album (out tomorrow!) is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. They basically take the band to task for making mellow, content, straight-forward music. The reviewer is savage and seems to take glee in hammering at Jeff Tweedy and Co. for creating an album that isn't as self-consciously arty or experimental as either Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born.

Since when did experimentalism for the sake of experimentalism become something to value in and of itself? It's really part of my whole complaint against indie music as a genre and an aesthetic. Sure, a lot of mainstream music is crap. But the whole "anything that anyone else might possibly like is automatically crap" hipster shtick is tired and ridiculous. It's apparently cool to hate things, or so you'd think from reading Pitchfork.

What's ironic, though, is that Pitchfork tends to perpetrate the same sort of sins of conformity that their non-indie rock-crit kin commit. There's this notion of hating things that everyone else likes, yes, but there's also an element of "this band is the Next Big Thing," said in such a way that you can hear the capital letters. They're just as guilty of being bandwagoners as anyone else, it's just that they pride themselves on loving the obscure and the weird. And they love it not because they actually genuinely like the music, but because it's obscure and weird and experimental and no one else not in the little indie club has ever heard it. There's this aesthetic that prizes non-listenability over music that's actually enjoyable.

I think that's where my main gripe is: the indie aesthetic is focused on out-pretensing the next guy rather than on music that they actually like. You get the sense that the indie kids listen to stuff not because they like the way it sounds, but because they feel they're supposed to. It's really just as bad as liking flavor of the week mainstream band, and it drives me freakin' nuts.

I guess it's stuff like this that's the reason I can never really stand most of the other people who listen to the music I ever listen to.


Song of the Moment: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "One Dime Blues"

"And You Want To Sing Along"

Things of note:

1) I hyperextended my left knee on Friday playing kickball with the students at field day after our camping trip. It hurts like all get-out, and kneeling is currently almost as painful as listening to an Avril Lavigne song (zing!).

2) Speaking of painful musical experiences, who in the hell let Green Day cover a John Lennon song? And why oh why did it have to be "Working Class Hero?" That's a brilliant, understated song that they bludgeoned to death with their power-pop chords and heavy instrumental passage. Subtlety is dead and its killers stand before you, I guess.

3) New Wilco and new Rufus Wainwright out tomorrow. I'm sorely tempted to call in late to work so I can go pick them up, but I'll probably just run out after my class and snag them.

4) Final Portfolio (the follow-up to the dreaded Midpoint Portfolio that was the bane of my existence all last fall) starts tomorrow. It's taught by the same overbearing, drunk on her own minuscule power professor that taught it last time. Round two shall go to me, I swear it.

5) My wife still rocks more than anyone else in the world, and we've officially been married four months as of yesterday. That's a third of a year, and she still hasn't suddenly decided I'm too dorky to be married to. This is a good sign.

6) I'm currently doing a music unit in the Humanities class. It is totally awesome that I'm getting paid to make Mix CDs (for the students) and listen to/discuss music. This is why I love teaching.

7) The Elliott Smith compilation that came out last week, New Moon, is amazing. As good as anything he actually released on record, and that's really saying something. He's one of those guys whose leftovers are better than most bands' best efforts.


Song of the Moment: Elliott Smith, "Either/Or"