Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Settlers of Catan

The Settlers of Catan is an EXCITING game about gaining resources and allocating them to create roads and cities!!!!!

Um. . . let me try that again.

The Settlers of Catan is a CUT-THROAT game in which you trade resources with the other people and manipulate them into giving you all of their. . . sheep. . . sigh

Okay, maybe The Settlers of Catan doesn’t have the best hook, but it’s probably the best board game you’ve never played.

Most people growing up play board games. Milton Bradley has made a mint with games like Monopoly, Clue, Risk and Candyland. While these games are fun, they are pretty flawed. Clue is all about lucky dice roles, Risk is about who goes first and Monopoly doesn’t really so much end as people get tired of playing. What’s the deal with Candyland?!? IT'S ALL LUCK!!!

Over in Europe people have developing board games for adults, games not for children because of the complexity and skills involved in playing. One of the greatest games to come from Europe is The Settlers Of Catan.

The Settlers of Catan addresses almost every annoyance people have with board games. No one in knocked out of the game. Even in you’re losing you can still play and work for personal goals. The game is different every single time because the board is made out of hex pieces that are randomly arranged to make up the board. If someone in hoarding cards and not contributing to the game the in game robber takes care of that. There are multiple ways to win the game and even though there are complexities and nuances to this game it only takes a couple rounds through a practice game to understand the rules and enjoy the game.

The basic gist of the game is that you are trying to get victory points. You get one point per settlement which can be upgrading to cities, which give you two points (like the hotels in monopoly). The way you build things are by collecting resources according to players die roles at the beginning of each turn. For example, if you have a city that is touching a sheep hex that has the number 10 on it and someone roles a 10 you get a sheep card.

Here’s a quick tutorial you should check out.

I know, this game STILL doesn’t sound very exciting, but trust, it’s awesome.

To celebrate my birthday I got together with four good friends and along with my wife we played six-player game of Catan (The game is originally made for four players but there is an expansion pack that allows more people to play).

We played for four hours, and it was EPIC. When you sit around a table to play a game like this your eyes are on the board and each other not away at a television. You’re interacting with each other, problem solving but also making jokes. It’s mentally challenging but also relaxing.

The Settlers of Catan is the perfect mix between chance and skill. It’s smart, fun, quick, sometimes frustrating, but overall an awarding experience to play and a great way to spend an afternoon with friends.

Buy this game. It’s only $30 on Amazon. That’s four movie tickets. Get the game, sit down with a couple friends and you will more than get your money’s worth in entertainment.

If you don’t . . . well . . . there’s always Candyland.

Monday, March 29, 2010

One Headlight by The Wallflowers

Being the child of a rock legend can’t be an easy, especially if you try to follow you dad into the music business. I mean it’s not like your dad is known within the industry as being successful, these kids havs parents that not only changed music but changed the world.

Julian Lennon, the song of John Lennon, had a rough go at it. His biggest album Valotte featured some pop hits but most people simply could not get over how much he sounded like his father.

Lisa Marie Presley has had more success creating her own musical voice outside drawing upon her musical heritage.

Embracing her heritage she recorded a duet with her dad for this version of “In The Ghetto” and though she hasn’t had the success of her dad, Elvis, she has developed a strong following.

When Jakob Dylan and his band The Wallflowers released there break out album Breaking Down The Horse, things lined up in a way that never did for many other famous children of rock stars. This 1996 release sold quadruple platinum and featured top selling singles including “One Headlight” which has become their signature song.

Listening to “One Headlight,” Bob Dylan’s influence in instantly apparent. The way Jakob slides around the melodies and sing-speaks is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s early work like “The Times They Are A Changin’.” The lyrics while they aren’t as packed as thickly with imagery and double meaning are still powerful and poetic. Lines like “I seen the sun coming up at the funeral at dawn, the long broken arm of human law” create immediate emotions impressions in the mind.

Other lines like “I turn the engine, but the engine doesn't turn. Well it smells of cheap wine & cigarettes, this place is always such a mess, sometimes I think I'd like to watch it burn” swirl around themselves and are utilized as much for how the words sound as their lyrical meaning.

When “One Headlight” came out I was in high school and I still remember how much this song transfixed me. It was eerie, lonely and strangely triumphant. The chorus rises to a powerful peak breaking out of the gloom.

Jakob has gone on to create more fascinating music with The Wallflowers and a great solo album, Seeing Things.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk around and known that everybody knows who my father is. It’s hard to say whether someone like Julian Lennon ever really got a fair go at it. You can’t chose what situation you are born into but Jakob Dylan has made it work. Not running away from his father’s enormous shadow but embracing who he is musically defining what it means to be a Dylan for his new generation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Love Of McDonald's

Last week as I entered my classroom one of the my fellow teachers, flustered and distraught asked me if I saw the sign? Confused and concerned I responded that I hadn't. “Well Kingsley, our McDonald's is going to close on the 21st, UNTIL JULY!!!” she exclaimed. Panicked, I raced to the computer and after 3 minutes of intense Internet surfing I found an alternative location that we could go to and printed out a map.

Problem solved. . . wow that was a close one.

Near the school I work at there is a McDonald's less than half a mile away. They are closing temporarily to remodel the building. Many staff members get their morning drinks from there and occasionally hit it up for lunch. While some people I work with go there every morning, I hit it up once a week.

To celebrate making it through another week and not losing our patience with any of our students Lajaunda (a co-worker who I carpool with) and I hit up McDonald’s every Friday morning.

This is a conversation from the first time we did this earlier in the year (Me-K, Lajuanda-L).

[standing in line at McDonalds]
L-What are you getting?
K-hmm. . the McSkillet Burrito

L-Ew! Are you serious? That thing is disgusting?!?
K-uh yeah, it's great, it's got cheese and a great sauce and. . . .
L-STOP!! That's just gross, whatever
K-right . . . ok, so what are you getting?
K-Oh My God! A breakfast sandwich with sweetened bread!!! Might as well be eating a Bacon-McDonut

Honestly, going to McDonald’s is one of the highlights of my week. If that sounds pathetic to you, let me explain.

At it's worst McDonald's while creating an assembly approach to food production created mindless minimum wage jobs that through repetitive unskilled tasks diminished the spirit of its workers. Some argue that McDonald's also contributes to obesity issues in the United States and some even have gone so far that the sugar and salt laden foods purposely have addictive qualities.

Now I've seen Supersize Me, Food Inc. and read Fast Food Nation. While I understand the arguments that McDonald's has had negative effects on our society, I can’t deny what a glorious eating experience McDonald’s can be.

Some would call me a “foody.” I’m not a huge fan of that would because of its snobby connotation. I think spending over a hundred dollars on a dinner can be a great value and that eating great food can be a beautiful and emotional artistic experience. I love going to the grocery store, trying different foods, reading about food, watching cooking shows on television and cooking. Spending four or five hours preparing a meal is something that brings me joy.

Loving food the way I do, I also love street food. The same way I understand the artistry in a pop song like “Party In The USA” by Miley Cyrus, I revel in a good hot dog, fried chicken, and simple but artfully created burger.

When you go to McDonald’s, like listening to a great pop song, you get exactly what you expect. It’s democratic in the way that someone can’t pay more and get a better Big Mac than I can, it’s the same across the country and economic levels. McDonald’s treats all their customers the same and in this way it’s a prevalent and lively shared cultural experience.

I know that McDonald’s food is not great for me, but neither is find dining either. What are you going to do though? Are you willing to sacrifice enjoying food so that you can live a couple years longer? If you are, Godspeed, but I’d rather shave a couple years off my live and love what I eat.

Last year, I started going to McDonald’s on Friday and it was fun, but it’s different with Lajuanda. We look forward to it through the week, celebrate it when it comes and share a couple minutes before the students come and enjoy our breakfast together. There’s always this moment when we are eating and we look at each other with this sense of contentment and smile. Now that I think about it, it's not really about the food, is it?

That’s what my love of food is really about. Loving what you eat is not gorging on a pint of ice cream or eating at the same restaurant every day. It’s about experience the food we eat. It’s using food as a gateway into other cultures and the people in our world. It’s sharing with others what the joy and the experiences that make life worth living.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We’ve Got Tonight by Bob Seeger

“There are things in a life that matter. Things in a past that can’t be denied.”

The Wonder Years is a beautiful television show. Following the childhood of Kevin Arnold growing up in the 1960s, we see life through the eyes of a boy trying to understand the world around him. At the center of Kevin’s world was a girl, Winnie Cooper and between them is one of the memorable and endearing relationships in television.

It was clear from the pilot episode that there was something special about this show. This first episode was about the death of Winnie’s brother in the Vietnam. At the end of the episode, Kevin finds Winnie and tries to comfort her. With few words and an awkward gesture of care, we witness the magic of a first kiss.

This is not a cliché first kiss. They do not say “I love you,” right after and lovingly gaze into each other eyes. In some ways, this kiss isn’t even about romance. It’s about being there for someone and feeling close to someone in a time a need. Watching this moment, you can feel the warmth of the presence that Kevin provides for Winnie and in their eyes we reflect on these moments of wonder in our own lives.

True to life, Kevin and Winnie’s relationships developed slowly on the show. There were difficulties, awkward situations and small victories. There’s a level of levity and humor in most of these situations and which is why “The Accident” is such a jarring episode.

In “The Accident,” Winnie starts hanging out with a new group of friends and Kevin feels left out.Kevin doesn’t approve of these older people, and he tries to let her know to no avail. The episode itself has a different rhythm than previous ones and because of this it’s unclear where this episode is going.

Then Winnie gets in a car accident. Kevin finds out and rides his bike over to her house and waits for her to come home.

Why doesn't Winnie want to see Kevin? Maybe Winnie is ashamed of how she put Kevin aside, or maybe she wants to keep Kevin as part of her past as she did throughout the episode. In the darkness of the car, all Kevin can see is a shadow of the girl that he first kissed.

As Kevin bikes away, the piano introduction of “We’ve Got Tonight” by Bob Seeger begins. There’s a moment when we think that Kevin is just going to let go but he doesn’t, he refuses too. Only when he looks through the window into Winnie’s apprehensive eyes does Kevin realize why. In three small words, “I Love you,” Kevin forgives her, embraces hers and commits himself to her. Like a sigh of relief, Winnie says, “I love you” in response as a tear falls down her face.

One of the most amazing things about this moment is how two people can feel an emotional intimacy while being at a physical distance. People have said “I love you” countless times on television but framed in this way, it’s truly unforgettable.

Even though Bob Seeger recorded “We’ve Got Tonight” years after that scene takes place, it is an ingenuous use of that song. It’s one of those perfect moments when two pieces of art mean the exact same thing making the other that much more powerful. It’s about one moment meaning the world, feeling the love for another and the wonder of love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard

My brother and I have this ongoing argument about which Def Leppard song is better “Pour Some Sugar On Me” or “Photograph.” While I can understand the artistic merits of “Photograph,” the slick production and the fact that the lyrics to this song actually make sense, I find myself always ending up arguing for “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” For me, it simply rocks harder.

What does it mean to rock? Well, let's figure that out.

Something that separats Def Leppard from many of the other bands of their time was the fact that their songs had multiple musical layers that were audible through the incredible production work of Mutt Lange (who later went on to make Shania Twain famous).

There is so musical nuance throughout this song, like in the opening. The word “bomb” in the opening of the song travels from the left to the right speaker rhythmically (you got to check it out with head phones on). Along with this, there grating guitar paired another guitar line, howling like a wolf that slowly builds as the vocal line disintegrates all sense of meter. All of this builds up to four drum hits that sound like a gunshot paired with a scream that sounds like the devil unleashed.

As the drums lay down the beat, different guitar lines accent parts of the pattern until you notice that on the offbeats there is a chorus of men grunting “huah, hey.” Like cavemen they chant along with the forceful, primal drum beat.

Like great jazz music that swings, the relatively slow tempo of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” lays back in the beat swinging in its own unique way. This style of beat comes from slower blues inspired song of the Rolling Stones that proved that the dirtiest sounding music had no need to rush.

Joe Elliot raps with such swagger and attitude that you simply don’t care that the line “Lookin' like a tramp, like a video vamp, demolition woman, can I be your man?” makes no sense. It’s more about attitude and words that sound dirty and intriguing like “lover” and “Little Miss Innocent.” The phrases don’t have meaning in a literal or metaphoric way but instead they create a mosaic that expresses the spirit of rock.

It’s hard to know what rocks harder, the lead into the chorus of the chorus itself. Both have well-crafted call and response melodies that are easy to sing along. You barely have to listen one note to know what is coming next and its this predictability that makes the chorus such an infectious anthem.

Oh, and you can't forget the end of the bridge: check out how the back up and lead singers interact and line up.

Bold: lead singer and back up singers together
Plain text: lead singer
[Bracket]:back-up singers

You got the peaches I got the cream,
Sweet to taste [saccharine].
I’m hot [hot] so hot, sticky sweet,
From my head [head], he- [head to my feet].

Borrowing from the way rap groups like RUN DMC utilize back up vocals to create rhythmic power and musical energy, the bridge is a whirl of words that build to the ultimate climax of the last chorus.

Thus is why this song rocks.

Oh and Taylor Swift performing this song with Def Leppard . . . it’s hard to know what’s more amazing, how hard Def Leppard can still rock or Taylor Swift’s performance.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What am I to Buffy?

There are many different ways that people describe relationships with dogs. We call ourselves masters, pack leaders, parents, owners, family members, companions and friends. Some of these titles have rang more true than others but none of them really describe the relationship I have with Buffy.

I don’t want to live my life being under master’s servitude, nor do I want to be a master myself. Buffy is not a creature for me to order around, an animal whose sole purpose is to be loyal and serve my own needs. Rarely do I order Buffy what to do. More often than not I invite her to follow my directions and most of the time she does. The moments when I do order Buffy it is for her own good because she is chewing on something that is harmful to her health.

This idea of a pack leader is completely irrelevant in my opinion. Do I do things based on her animal insticts? All the time, like training her with food. However, do I care if she walks through a doorway before her? No, of course not. Buffy may be a dog, but I’m not. The way I relate to her is the same way that I relate to all the people in my life and there is not one instinct in my body that tells me to be a “pack leader,” so why should I fake this with my dog?

I guess, I am kind of a parent with Buffy. Diana and I have taught her manners, give her baths and feed her. As much as all of these things are stuff that parents do, for myself I don’t really think of it that way. We are asking Buffy to live in a human world. She doesn’t have the tools and capabilities to survive among humans.

I'S HIDIN!!!!!!!

I don’t talk to her or think of Buffy like she’s my kid. I feel I approach her like someone visiting from a foreign control. I explain and teach her things that help her understand the world. We have breed dogs to the point when they need human which is not so much of a parental role but a responsibility as a owner.

Legally, we own Buffy, but that’s where that label stops because her soul and her spirit is something that I can never possess.

Buffy definitely is part of our family. I wrote about this feeling in an earlier post reflecting on how my parents welcomed her into our family with open arms. Only when Buffy, Diana and I are together does our family feel complete.

They say that dogs are a man’s best friend and I got to admit that Buffy is a great friend. She thinks of us, wants to be around us and does all that she can to take care of us. Buffy becomes very concerned when one of us is behind a door like in the bathroom and is only truly relaxed when she’s sure that we are all okay.

It's a friendship like no other. There’s something deeper, unconditional and indescribable in the bond we share. Without words there’s a different understanding that bonds us. When I look into her eyes, there aren’t any words that come to mind but rather emotions and experiences. It’s through these feelings that we share each other’s lives.

I often wonder how Buffy views me. Does she think of me as her master, pack leader, parent, companion or friend? I’ll never know for sure but I don’t think Buffy gets wrapped up in all of those labels. The definitions and connotations of these words are irrelevant to her.

None of those terms defines our relationship. Only how we feel about each other is important. Buffy knows that I love her and I know that she loves me and like the songs says maybe that’s all I need to know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What It Means To Talk About Politics

As the House of Representatives, prepare to vote on the Senate health care plan, the political debate over this issue is reaching a critical point. This blog is not about politics, it’s about my reaction to the world and the positivity in our culture that brings up hope. However, I feel compelled at this critical time in our country’s history to speak out against the negativity threatens our belief in our government.

If you are fighting and arguing against the current health care bill because you think defeating this piece of legislation will help improve the quality of life for the majority of Americans then by all means, please continue to argue. However, if you are fighting against this bill for any other reason, for the love of God, stop.

Sometimes people argue against something that you fear will make something worse, without providing alternative solutions. Hmmm. . . so I don’t think you should take this medicine because the side effects might be bad, but I’m not going to research any alternatives at the same time, I’ll just sit hear and let you rot.

I agree with Obama that not offering alternatives and just arguing things down is unacceptable. It creates a false image of a “party of ‘no’” while at the same time provides fodder for people to argue that Republicans are only arguing against Obama and Democratic to be vindictive and that they do not have the best interest of the American people in their minds. I strongly do not believe in the same way I don’t believe that all Republicans are right-wing moral conservatives.

Some of the negativity towards this bill has to do with our popular culture's negativity Bush. I never supported irrational George W. Bush hate. He is not the worst president in the history of the United States. He is not evil and he doesn’t live on the brains of puppies. Yes, he may have mislead America about the War In Iraq and spent more money than I can comprehend but really which president didn’t mislead the American people on some major issue and mess with the budget in a way that one party can argue is negative.

No matter how insidious and annoying criticism against Bush were it doesn’t justify applying that same attitude towards Obama and the current Democrats. It’s like bringing up something Diana did to upset me four years ago when we have an unrelated disagreement.

Next time you get into a political argument, ask yourself: are you simply arguing to win and prove that you're right about something? If that's the case, argue about something else, like sports or movies are who could win in a fight: Hulk or Superman.

Political issues are people’s lives. The budget, military conflicts overseas, health care, these topics are not theoretical subjects that exist to exercise your mental muscle. Government decisions about these issues change people’s lives, often for the better but sometimes unavoidably for the worse.

If you need to feel good about your knowledge and that you are smart, stop arguing politics and get in a field where the discussion doesn't effect the well-being of the people in this country. Selfishly motivated political discussions pollutes the political environment and distracts from people from the truth and people who are truly working to make our country a better place.

If the health care bill passes than let’s hope for the best. Being proven wrong and losing an argument is more than worth seeing people have a better quality of life through better health care. And if the legislation fails, then let’s take this as an opportunity to start with a clean slate and create a better plan that more of this country can believe in.

What we fighting for in politics is ourselves and each other with the hope that we can improve our lives and our country. Arguing about politics without this hope is fruitless, cynical and annoying.

The government isn’t some alien institution, it’s an extension of every single one of us. A lack of faith in our government is a lack of faith in ourselves. For if we lose hope, we are not only giving up who we are and this dream we call America.

Monday, March 15, 2010

More Than A Feeling by Boston

When I discover a song that I like, I listen to it repeatedly. It’s not uncommon for me to listen to one song every time in my car for a whole week. This all started when my brother who was a was a senior in high school when I was a freshmen drove me to school every morning.

There was a couple tapes we would listen to in the car and one of them was a Boston cassette and we would often spend the entire drive to school rocking out to “More Than A Feeling.” Even after weeks of this song, I never got sick of this song and after all these years since, I never have.

“More Than A Feeling” is one of the most ingeniously paced and constructed rock songs. It starts with a short introduction and after a short 8-bars verse, we are swept into the chorus. The 4-bar transition into the chorus features a simple but masterful longing descending guitar lick that drops right into the chorus guitar riff in a righteously satisfying way. This band is not messing around, they aren’t giving a long slow developing beginning, Boston wants you to rock ASAP and they do exactly that.

Every single back-up vocal response to the singer in the chorus is “more than feeling” making it incredibly easy to sing along with, if you don’t feel like trying to sing the high lead which is hilarious fun to sing along with (unless you are doing this song on the Sing-Star video game which is just painful).

The live version here doesn’t have the second verse but the original recording does. What you hear in the original is the chorus relax into the second verse and build up into the chorus At the end of that chorus we expect the band to wind down, but they throw us for a loop here. “Away” is held longer and longer. As the band reeves up and "away" note gets higher, and higher and higher disappearing into the guitar solo.

Tom Scholz, the musical mind behind Boston received his masters degree from MIT and spent his time recording in this basement while work for Poloroid. After getting a record deal, he insisted that he record his album in his basement. The record company argued against this, so he created a band to record some arrangements in a studio while Scholz continued to make the album by himself in his basement. All the guitar tracks including the two that duet during the guitar solo were recorded by Scholz in his basement. There’s a reason it took him five years to record this song.

My favorite part of this song comes right after the last verse. Scholz extends the verse with “slip away” giving him one last opportunity to show how high he can sing. Than we hear the instrumental transition into the chorus like we have heard previously in the song.

You’re rocking out, expecting for the chorus to slide in after the two measure transition and then WAIT, the lick is drawn out for four more beats making the moment of anticipation last just a little bit longer until the final rock out!!!



And btw, what is the deal with the bassist in the music video . . .

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen

“Dancing In The Dark” is Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hit from his best-selling album, Born In The U.S.A. While his break out album Born To Run revolutionized rock music, it was Born In The U.S.A. that transformed Springsteen into a popular music superstar.

Everything about Born In The U.S.A was iconic. There was the album cover by Annie Leibovitz:

And the music video for “Dancing In The Dark” directed by Brian De Palma (yes the same guy who directed Al Pacino in Scarface) featuring Friend’s actress Courtney Cox.

As well as Jon Stewart. . .

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Dancing with Bruce
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

This was the Bruce that most people remember, not the scraggly youth or the elder statements of rock, but rather the young clean cut, muscular, vivacious youth featured in this music video. And of course there was nothing more iconic than the song itself.

Maybe it’s the thumbing beat or the unapologetic synthesized backgrounds but for some reason people love “Dancing In The Dark.” Is this Springsteen’s greatest work? Probably not, but it's an fantastic example of Bruce’s ability to write great pop music infused with profound messages of hope and optimism.

The first verse introduces our protagonist getting up in the evening to work a night shift. He’s tired and bored, the monotony of life is getting to him, and he realizes that he needs a little help. Then the chorus hits, utilizing “you can’t start a fire without a spark” to symbolize the need for something, some impetus for him to get his life going. This is followed by the most haunting and intriguing line of the song “this guns for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.”

“Dancing in the dark” is one of those great pop songs hooks. The alliteration makes emphasize the beat while its symbolism is open to interpretation. Dancing is a joyful act but in the dark there is mystery and fear. The idea of dancing in the dark is living life to the fullest without necessarily knowing what's down the road.

In the second verse, the character begins to experience clarity. He understands that “there’s something happening somewhere” which gives him hope that, something can change for the better in his life, “baby, I just know that there is.”

The last verse expresses a sense of urgency, “I’m just about starving tonight, I’ve dying for some action.” He needs a “love reaction,” he needs just one look to get him going. Even within this dire situation there's still a drive, a hunger that burns that won’t stop.

In the last verse instead of the line “you can’t start a fire with a spark,” Bruce reveals what this line symbolically means: “sitting around crying over a broken heart” and “worrying about your little world falling about.” What is keeping people from starting the fire in their heart is hanging onto sadness from the past and worrying that things could fall apart. It’s only by moving forward and looking to the light that things can improve even if you’re just “dancing in the dark.”

After being prominently featured in live performance, “Dancing In The Dark” disappeared from Springsteen’s live sets in the 1990s It wasn’t until the Rising Tour in 2002 that it reappeared as an encore and has since become and is now regularly performed.

Gone are the synthesizers, replaced with a violin and instead of the dance drum beat, Max Weinberg feverishly drives a rock beat. This new arrangement strips away the sounds that dates this song as an 1980s hit and brings out the universality and timeless power of this song.

Springsteen’s music expresses many different emotions, but watching Bruce perform this song live it’s clear that “Dancing In The Dark” is simply about the joy that come from hope. The smile on Bruce’s face isn’t forced, he can’t help it when singing this song. I know this because I can’t help but smile when I watch him perform.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wise Up by Aimee Mann

I’m sorry.

I pride myself in being a good friend who gives good advice and providing perspective in difficult situations but I think I have misspoken. I told you that the best thing to do would be to give up and move on with your life and even though it sounded like the right thing to do at the time, I find myself feeling differently about your situation.

Thinking about your problem, the voice of Aimee Mann entered my mind. Her seemingly flat and unaffected voice, with its unique ability to express both earnestness and sincerity spoke to me through her song “Wise Up.”

Featured in P. T. Anderson’s brilliant film, Magnolia, “Wise Up” is a hauntingly beautiful song about what it means to give up.

Sometimes when you hear a song it solidifies the way you feel but listening to Aimee Mann’s haunting melody, I realized how I wrong I was about the situation.

Yes if you don’t give up, the pain isn’t going to stop. Unless you let go of believing in the goodness of people around you and hope for something better you will continue to be hurt and disappointed by the flaws of human nature and the realities of life.

However, if you do not believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, you will not feel the warmth of the light the next morning. Belief and hope do not simply determine how we feel about people in our world but also how we view the world around us. It is through this perspective that we make choices in our life and if you do not feel the light, you will never venture forth and your world will forever be in darkness.

You always have a choice, not in what happens to you but in the way that you view and react to life. You can give up and stop fighting and as much as I know that sometimes it seems easier to do this and take solace in the comfort of predictability and negativity, don’t do it.

Don’t give up.

Aimee Mann is wrong. It will eventually stop. This like all things will pass. If giving up hope to find a “cure” as Mann sings is what it means to “wise up.” Then I would rather live in folly.

I’ve realized that there is one similarity amongst all of my friends. They are all optimists and live their lives full of hope. I would never want that part of you to ever change. If that means that there are tears because someone you believed in disappointed you, it’s ok. I would rather be there when you cry than feel cynicism coming from your heart.

The world will disappoint you, people will hurt you and your world may feel like it’s falling apart around you but never forget that you will never go through these moments alone because I will never give up on you.

“No matter what life throws at you, you’ve got to put on foot in front of the other and keep moving forward with an open heart.”
-from Blackest Night: The Flash #3

Monday, March 8, 2010

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding by Elvis Costello

In the middle of a recession, high oil prices an angry voice came from screaming from Britain. Elvis Costello a strange amalgamation of 1950s imagery with Buddy Holly glasses emerged from the New Wave movement but with an aggressive punk sound. However he had decidedly not punk message which is immediately evident in one of his earliest hits “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.”

The original version of this song was written and recorded by Costello’s friend, Nick Lowe.

Lowe’s version is a country-styled mellow contemplation of the world. This version is a man contemplating why the world isn’t a better place. Nick Lowe invites us to make us take a step back and consider that maybe there’s something that we should reconsider in this world. When Nick Lowe says it almost makes him want to cry it’s from sadness and feeling tired. It’s from simply not understanding the darkness in the world and trying to make sense of it all.

Elvis Costello feels a little bit more like I do right now. He transforms a calm invitation to ponder how we feel about optimism into a frustrated, aggressive, confrontational attack on our cynicism and pessimism.

With the tempo turned up, with darker instruments and raw vocals, Costello tears through this song like a man possessed. No more is this question an invitation but a statement of anger and frustration. Why with all these horrible and frustrating things in the world are peace, love and understanding not taken as serious solutions to the world’s problems?

I guess that I’m just in a strange mood right now. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m dealing with Chicago winter or that I’m simply tired, but this world can be pretty frustrating. I mean really, there is so many people do bad things to people out there. You don’t have to even unfold a newspaper to find evidence of people being jerks in the world.

It frustrating that some people have a knee-jerk reaction against “peace, love and understanding” being able to solve any of the world’s problems. Look I agree, you need a lot more than love to make it through the day and yes, world peace will never happen and understanding is not going to solve the energy crisis.

However peace, love and understanding are real solutions to every day interactions we have with the people in our lives and in helping us with our small problems in our every day life you can change the world and eventually tackle these bigger issues. Now if you think this is some crazy hippy, idealistic, utopia idea, then I pity you.

If you don’t believe that we can make the our lives and the world a better place through peace, love and understanding than I do have not have any idea how you get through the day. A life without believing in the potential for the goodness in others is a life without belief in the goodness within us. And ff we don’t believe in ourselves than there really isn’t much point to living.

Tell me, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding. I don’t see anybody laughing, all I see is the single most powerful force in the universe: hope.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Heart of Oscar Night

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

A couple weeks ago the news hit that the producers of the Oscar telecast decided to cut the tradition of having the nominations for Best Song perform during the Oscar telecast. While the reasons cited for cutting these performance were practical (ratings, cost of performances), frankly I'm disappointed. Though, I'm not surprised that you would put these reasons above celebration one of the most important parts of film and featuring one of the most important roles of music in our popular culture.

Songs from films have become some of the most influential songs in popular culture from classics like "Moon River" to Disney standards like "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" Featuring these performances not only provided variety in the show but acted as a tribute to not only the songs that were nominated but essential role that music plays in films.

Some years, the best song category doesn't lend itself to great performances but between the possibility of seeing Jeff Bridges perform a song from Crazy Heart, a performance form Nine and featuring Randy Newman a national treasure for his work on The Frog Princess, it truly is a shame to let these performance go unseen.

Think about some of the performances that we would have missed if you made this decision years ago.

Bruce Springsteen standing alone on stage singing "Streets Of Philadelphia" was breathtaking. This intimate, subtle and brilliant performance made you feel like that Bruce was singing right through the television and straight into your soul. I actually bought this soundtrack album to Philadelphia before seeing the film. It was after listening to and falling in love with the this song that I watched this film which has since become one of my favorites.

People simply didn't take South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut seriously as a film (which I've argued in this earlier post). Not only was this cartoon a brilliant piece of social commentary but it is one of the greatest film musicals. So when Robin Williams strutted on stage and performed "Blame Canada," he legitimized the film, brought this song into the forefront of popular culture in a performance that could only occur on an Oscar stage.

The film industry has always prided itself in being on the forefront of cultural diversity. Film music like "Theme From Shaft" by Isaac Hayes proved that the Oscar community was embracing not only the development of music in popular culture but a wider breadth of what it meant to be in popular music.

When Three 6 Mafia (who were the only African American artists since Hayes to win an Oscar in this category) performed "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow, it went against the sensibilities of red carpet and the broadcast but it was a moment when the Oscar community was reminded that film's greatest achievement is reflecting the diversity of the human spirit and this performance did that in a way that some may have not liked but no one could ignore.

People watch the Oscar's for different reasons and you've taken away one of the biggest reason I watch the broadcast. I applaud you're willingness to change and take chances with the broadcast, but I question your priorities if you are willing to cut one of the memorable and meaningful parts of the broadcast.

At least we have the great performances of the past and for that I am grateful. Maybe by reflecting on some of the these past performances you will realize how important these moments truly are.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Wake

. . . The wake is today from 3pm to 9pm. Okay, well I guess I could go. I want to run some errands, but I guess I could do that later, but I would really like to. . . whatever. Ok so I can be home from school around 3ish, take Buffy for a quick walk, be out at the wake around 4, spend 1/2 an hour there and be home by 5:30ish to give Buffy dinner and salvage some resemblance of an evening. . .

As much as we hate to admit it to ourselves, Tolstoy in his book The Death Of Ivan Ilyich was right. When death occurs our minds often travel to how these events inconvenience our own lives.

So after a stressful day at work I got home. I took Buffy for a quick walk, changed and the headed out. Then I entered the beautiful world of Chicago traffic. The 1/2 hour travel time on quickly passed as I sat in traffic.

I needed to go south on I-94, and then go west on I-90 and for those of you who do not know the Chicago freeway system, there is a point when these two freeways almost touch. However, these freeways do not connect, so you have to exit and take local roads which results in the most indirect path between these two interstates. It is one of the ridiculous flaws in civic design ever and I’m notusing superlatives to be humorous, I dead serious.

During the resulting hour and fifteen minutes it took to get to the wake I went through a variety of emotions. Frustration that this was taking so long to get there, anger at Chicago’s bass awkward freeway systems and sadness. My friend’s dad had died and in these situations you can’t help but think about your own parents mortality. I almost started to cry when “Easy Silence” came on thinking of losing people in my life that I love.

As much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I considered turning around and going home and then I remembered when my mom’s father died. There were only two grandchildren who didn’t make the trek to Taiwan for the funeral and one of them was me. At the time, the idea of taking a last minute flight to Taiwan and spending more time in the air than on the ground seemed illogical and not worth it. Thinking back, spending a whole day on a plane would have been a small price to pay for the opportunity to say goodbye to my grandfather.

So I stuck with it and got to the funeral home. I was tired, stressed, and wondering if this whole trip was going to be worth it. As I walked into the room, I saw my friend with a couple mutual friends and as I walked up the began making jokes about how I “clean up well.” Then I saw my friend, smiling with her usual glow and gave her a hug.

We walked around the room, she introduced me to some of her family and we saw her father laid respectfully in an open casket. We talked about work, what we had been up to but mostly we just made jokes and laughed a little. I had nothing profound to say to her but it felt good being able make her a laugh a little and I guess sometimes that’s what it means to be there for someone and show support.

I left the funeral home at about the time I planned to be home (5:30 pm). The drive back had traffic that was just as bad the way there but it didn’t seem quite as annoying. Instead of listening to sad music and feeling like crying I rocked out to Faith by George Michael.

When I got home, Buffy came up and greeted me and when I picked her up and held her in my arms, I couldn’t help but smile. You never know what each day will bring to you, but what I do know is that nothing bad ever comes out of being there for a friend and no matter what the cost, it’s always worth it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Who’s Tommy @ Northwestern University

“Right behind you, I see the millions. On You, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story.”

The morning after seeing the Northwestern production (here's the ticket info.) of The Who’s Tommy, these words are still echoing in my head. The ending chorus of “We’re Not Going To Take It,” often referred to as “Listening To You” was the greatest moment of the production.

The simple set combined with the challenges of Townshend’s lyrics, which I couldn’t always understand in this performance made the narrative of The Who’s Tommy difficult to follow. As with most college productions there are simply amazing performances and some that needed improvement. The lead who played Tommy, Reed Wilson brought incredible energy and inner turmoil to the role while balancing a Broadway voice with Roger Daughtry rock sensibility, while other performance reflected the development of young singers and actors.

Regardless of any flaws in the performance the ending chorus of “Listening To You” just made everything make sense and tied the show into a satisfying and powerful musical experience.

The Who’s Tommy started off as a concept album, taking the idea of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band one step further, well a lot of steps further. The Beatles tied together Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a reprise of the first song as one of the last tracks. Within this framework included songs that told different stories which thematically were not all related but shared a musical universe.

Tommy as the original double album told a linear story with varying lengths of songs and musical motives that The Who carries throughout the album. Tommy is a musical achievement, a masterpiece of conception pushing the possibilities of rock music and sensibility into amazing heights.

As a staged musical, the experience is very different. Most people know Tommy from the film that was made in 1975 featuring many of the most famous actors musicians of the time including, Jack Nicholson, Elton John and Tina Turner.

As a film, Tommy features phenomenal visuals, some fun performances and a clear story, but what you don’t get from the film is sense of is really what an musical triumph this rock opera is.

Watching the rock band at Northwestern’s production which were featured in the back center of the stage playing wall to wall music for two hours was astonishing. Rarely do you see rock bands playing live with such clarity and musicality. The authenticity, respect and craft that the band of Daniel Green, Alex Goldklan, Zach Spound, rich Clark, Nick Davio, Nicholas Park, Ian Weinberger (who was amazing on drums) and Alex Weaver brought to the show was truly awesome.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking this show (here's the ticket info). Nothing is quite like seeing great rock music live and being reminded how transcendent rock music can be, the heights of emotion in music and the power of a chorus.