Friday, December 30, 2005

This is So Flippin' Sweet!!

It's been a while since I've mentioned the Black Keys on this blog, but in this absense, my love for the band has continually been growing. Recently, I bought my own copy of their latest, Rubber City, and have been devouring it ever since. My respect for Pat and Dan grows with every album. This latest is definitely their most ambitious departure from a traditional blues-based song form, and they do so brilliantly.

But today, as I wandered through a record shop, what should my eyes happen upon except a black DVD case with the words Black Keys Live emblazoned upon it.

My curiosity is piqued!

A live concert DVD?! Who had any idea?!

Well, apparently their record label knew, because it was them who released the thing. Anyway. I happen upon this by accident, and to my joy, upon popping it into my DVD player, I find the whole concert (in Sydney, Australia in March of 2005) to be shot on low-grade flim, with only about four or five cameras rolling, so it captures a very basic, raw sense of the concert, which is precisely the feel you would get if you were at the concert itself.

The Keys don't rely on any gimmicks on stage to get their point accross, so the music must do all of the work. Aside from being great musical talents in their own rite, the songs these two have written have a longevity and satiability to them that makes it fun to listen to tehm no matter how many times you hear them. And to watch them slave over their craft makes it even more fun as you watch the frenzy build into blistering crescendos of cymbal crashes and guitar distortion.

I havne't even made it all the way through this whole disc yet, but as I sit here watching it I give it my highest recommendation. After seeing them live, I'd have to say this disc captures their energy very well on film, while letting you control the volume and just enjoy the music being made.

Program for Recital on Dec. 22nd, 2005

This is old news, but since I put the other one up, I might a well put this there alongside of it...

Johann Sebastian Bach - Suite no. 1 in G major

Paul Hindemith - Sonata for viola solo op. 25 no. 1

- Intermission -

Igor Stravinsky - Elegie

Bohuslav Martinu - Three Madrigals for violin and viola

Run time: I'm not sure. I talked for a short while before hand as well, and we started late, and it was done in 75 minutes. So not too long.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Review: Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Directed by: Andrew Adamson

There is a sad trend in American cinema this years to replicate the success of other films, turning them sideways and releasing them as a new film, hoping audiences either won’t notice, or won’t mind.

As in another review I just wrote about Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line, where I drew comparisons between the similarities in the films about Cash and Ray Charles (Ray.)
So with the first Chronicle film being made yet again into a film adaptation, it follows (unfortunately) in the footsteps of another mid-twentieth century literary work whose films have recently revolutionized modern cinema.
I speak, of course, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien bear a startling similarity to each other. Both authors knew each other as men living in England during WW II, and both lamented the lack of books that dealt with the sort of fantastic subjects both men enjoyed. It was with this mission in mind both men set out to write their own vision of a mythical world inhabited by dwarves, fawns, centaurs and elves. Years later, the authors had completed their most memorable works; Tolkien the Lord of the Rings and Lewis with the Chronicles of Narnia.

So is it misfortune or logic that would dictate that on the heels of one successful film adaptation, another be gotten underway? The possibilities for comparison are endless and inevitable.

I read one review of this film which referred to this Narnia film as “Lord of the Rings Jr.”
and I feel that I must agree with him. And not always in all the good connotations.

The film begins with a verbatim recollection of how Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy came to be in the home of the Professor, hurrying us through a German bombing of London, a quick train ride to the Northern countryside and then to the mansion of the Professor, where they are told that they are never, ever to disturb the professor. All of this is done to set the stage as quickly as possible so that the children may begin their game of hide-and-seek which leads young Lucy to a spare room where an immense wardrobe invites her as a promising hiding place.
The story is quite well known; how Lucy accidentally finds herself in the magical world of Narnia, befriends the fawn Tumles and how the four siblings’ adventure begins and culminates in the battle for Narnia with the lion Aslan against the White Witch and her evil armies.

Since the story to this novel is perhaps the most well-known of any of the Narnia books, it would seem imperative that tremendous care was taken in telling the story precisely, accurately, and beautifully, just as was Peter Jackson’s concern in making the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Sadly, unlike Lord of the Rings, it would seem that not nearly enough concern was placed in the quality of production with this Narnia film.
Following in the shadow of this epic trilogy, it becomes terribly important that Narnia can clearly establish its own identity and yet display the same level of convincing detail that creates another world for its viewers.
Even though Jackson’s WETA Workshop was brought on board to do all of the special effects, computer animations and weapons and armor, it seemed to lack the same finish and luster that the Lord of the Rings became known for.
The mythical creatures in this film (centaurs, minotaurs, fawns and cyclops) do not pop off the screen or interact with other elements of the film in the same way that Gollum was so carefully engineered to do.
The scenery and landscape of Narnia fail to impress. One never really gets the sense that Narnia is an expansive land. Scenes are always shot in frames which continually contain trees, rocks or walls which give the audience a feeling of containment, but we are never let outside to marvel at the sheer majesty of Narnia’s beauty. In the back of my mind, I had to wonder how large this spot of land they were all fighting over, and if it would eventually be worth it.

Perhaps my greatest complaint about this film has to do with a fear that was instilled when I first started to see previews for this film. It has been rated PG for the violence and tense situations involving the White Witch, but I was always hesitant about the choices made by the filmmakers to make a film that was unquestionably PG. There is a certain amount of realism and believability which can only come with appealing to a broader audience than a PG film will attract.
The Lord of the Rings films understood this, and made no qualm about creating disgusting creatures, covered in blood and ooze, intense and realistic battle sequences. All of this builds a more heroic and noble struggle for our heroes to engage in.

The Chronicle, on the other hand, feels saddeningly light-weight by comparison. Sort of the Ring’s Diet Coke relative.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this film is how I didn’t care at all about the characters in this film. The power and strength of the story depends upon the relationship of the siblings with each other, and of the children’s willingness to help the creatures there because of their love for the lion Aslan.
Of course the metaphorical meaning behind the Chronicles is loudly declared, but the effectiveness of the story depends not only on the characters’ relationship with Aslan, but also with the reader’s. Or in this case, the audience.
Simply put, I didn’t care at all for Aslan. I didn’t care for his struggle (which wasn’t made clear) I never got a sense of his strength, or the significance of his sacrificial death, which is really the true emotional core of the whole book. To gloss over that emotional meaning in the film does the story a horrible disservice from which the film does not recover.
My sisters came out of the film more impressed with the White Witch than with Aslan, much to the chagrin of my father. But I completely understand why! The film spent more time with the Witch, exploring her environment and character than it did with Aslan. We were simply expected to trust the lion, and know that he was the one we should trust, without really giving us any reason.
(On a personal note, casting Liam Neeson as Aslan wasn’t any help either. Not only was I spending time trying to identify the voice artist, but I just don’t care for Liam Neeson that much. He is the same character in every film he has appeared in, particularly during the last year.)

Even the colors used in Narnia, (which are in stark contrast to the real-life colors the director uses to show 1940’s England) are almost cartoonish in their effect.
The reds on Peter and Edmund’s battle tunics are bright and never dirty or dull throughout the whole battle. The grass is a chipper green, and never mattes down, muddies or gets torn up underneath the hooves and footsteps of battle. Armor gleams throughout the entire melee, and hair and makeup remain in perfect condition despite the struggle.
In short, the whole effect of this film is a very child-like na├»ve point of view of the character’s struggle.

But what is the film’s audience? If its intended for children, then the effect would be complete, and you wouldn’t be getting good reviews from mature audiences anyway. But the film has been getting great reviews, and it is intended for all audiences. And it is because of these reasons why I hold this film and its filmmakers to a higher level of expectation.
If it was felt and agreed that the stories of Narnia were less regarded or any less-loved by millions all over the world, the expectations for a film such as this would be a lot less, but the truth of the matter remains, these films deserve the same level of attention and care as the Lord of the Rings books, and it’s treatment I don’t feel the film received.

Rather, what I believed has happened (and we see it in Peter Jackson’s newest film King Kong as well) is that a sort of formula has been established by the Lord of the Rings in both technical and creative aspects, and (just as Pixar pioneered computer-generated animated films which are now copied and ripped on to the point where there is nothing left but foolish plot lines, foolish characters and poor animation) we now will see the windfall of such a film project as their styles and techniques are duplicated again and again in hopes of recreating the same magic.
But without the same vision for the characters and the story, nothing will be made but second-grade film which has only the faintest whiff of the magic which made its predecessor so great.

I’d give this film three out of five, just for the sheer entertainment value of it. Easily could’ve been five, if only the right people were given a chance at the project.


Music Review : The Legend of Johnny Cash (2005)

This album comes out riding the storm of popularity built up from Walk the Line, Hollywood’s biopic on the life of Johnny Cash. Alongside the soundtrack to the film, this album is a tip-of-the-iceberg retrospective of Johnny Cash’s 40+ year career, putting 21 of his biggest hits together on one disc, spanning from his earliest songs like Cry,Cry,Cry and Folsom Prison Blues, to 2003’s surprisingly meaningful cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt which went on to garner awards and accolades even after Cash’s death.
As much as this album is probably a horrible gloss-over of Cash’s career for true fans of his music, this is honestly a great place for me to start. I knew even before I purchased this album that I wasn’t a huge Cash fan. I certainly appreciate his music, but it didn’t speak to me in a terribly meaningful way. However, as typically happens with the golden screen, the minute a certain music is highlighted and detailed by means of film, my interest piques as I get to see inside the life of the music.
In this case, it was fun watching Walk the Line and seeing the very beginnings of Rock and Roll as Cash toured the nation with the likes of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
To further stimulate my imagination, having T Bone Burnett (the mind behind O Brother, Where Art Thou?)as the musical supervisor on this film didn’t hurt either.
So having my appetite whetted for the uncompromising and unchanging flavor of Johnny Cash, this compendium was just what I was looking for. All of the original recordings from his earliest days back in the 50’s, plus all of his hits produced since 1990’s by Rick Rubin, including Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage and Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt.

I give this album high marks for giving a cream of the crop taste of Johnny Cash’s music, fully aware that there is probably a great deal of music from Cash that you don’t get a taste of on this album.


Movie Review: Walk the Line (2005)
Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Reese Witherspoon
Directed by James Mangold

Coming off last year’s success of Ray, the story of Ray Charles, the movie studios must have thought America primed for another biographic film of another loved musical icon. We venture from R&B to country music this time, and yet the time frame for these two stories remains very similar. In fact both Charles and Cash’s early childhood looked remarkably similar. Both involved early tragedy and growing up in poverty, which shaped both of their later musical inspirations (or so the movies go…)

Perhaps the greatest fault this movie suffered from is that it follows a year behind Ray. Personnally, my patience is a bit more tried for this type of film. Ray had my best of interests and energies, but seeing such an eerily similar story a second time, it grew much harder for me to get excited about what would end up to be a now familiar struggle.

None of this is to say that this wasn’t a beautifully made film. I felt the director, James Mangold, did a fine job at painting the many sides of Johnny Cash. In no way or at any point was he painted as a saint, first battling adulterous tendencies and then a drug addiction. The set production, costumes and art direction were are beautifully indicitive of the time, and did really re-create the 1960’s-era South.

This being said, the film bordered on tedious. I felt it too long, and seemed unwilling to cut corners on any plot detail throughout Cash’s life. As admirable as that may be, it makes for a painful movie-going experience when you round hour two. Also, considering the focus they placed on Cash’s battles with drug addictions, enough of the film was spent in shaky hand-held segments, staggering from one wall to the next, that you began to feel certain head pains. I suppose I would’ve rather more focus be kept on the performing and recording or his interactions with other legendary musicians, but it arguably takes from the human impact of the film.

A note on the acting: After Jamie Foxx’s eerie and exact portrayal of Ray Charles, much buzz was built up around Phoenix’s portrayal of Cash, including murmurings of Oscar-worthy performances. After seeing the entire film however, I just don’t believe that Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in this film is anywhere near as deserving of the accolades that were heaped upon Mr. Foxx for his Ray performance.

But this brings to mind a interesting debate that could be had: is a great acting performance, when based upon a real person, based upon a brilliant interpretation or imitation? Jamie Foxx’s praises seemed less based on great acting as it was a great imitation of the late Ray Charles.

So by that measure, Joaquin Phoenix does not reach Mr. Foxx’s level of accomplishment. However if we measure on the basis of emotional truth, I believe Mr. Phoenix is just as fine an actor as Mr. Foxx. And sadly, I believe this may simply be a sad case of first-place, second-place. Because Mr. Foxx’s movie came out a year ago, Mr. Phoenix’s portrayal will always be compared and found a wane comparison to Mr. Foxx’s version of the late Mr. Charles.

I give Walk the Line two and a half out of five for great film making, but too much length, not enough sunshine in the story, and a too-similar feel to Ray to be considered a classic.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Recital Done, Another Step Closer Hopefully...

To those four of you who were at my recital this Monday, thank you.

It went quite well, thank you for asking.

I'm afraid I have another performance to get to right now, so I'm not able to write further. Sadly, the email is also down, which means I've not been able to check my email for the past few days, which is (needless to say) a little frustrating.

Check out an effort to preserve the existene of Christmas:

Save An Elf!


Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Program For My Recital:

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Suite for Viola and Piano

Paul Hindemith - Sonata for solo viola op. 25 no. 1

- Intermission -

Darius Milhaud - Sonata no. 1 for viola and piano

Bohuslav Martinu - Three Madrigals for violin and viola

Program time: 65 minutes

Winter's He-re...

Yesterday Cleveland was hammered with about a foot of snow. Now I know this doesn't sound too bad, but around this parts of the world, snow removal isn't quite the science that it is in the severe midwest. It's not really even an area of scientific interest. In fact it seems almost unheard of to someone admit to enjoying winter. It's like its part of our culture here. You have to crave nice weather, beautiful scenery, (of which we get none) and have to detest the cold and snow. (Of which we get plenty.)

So does the whole city wish they lived somewhere else?

Cleveland doesn't seem to have alot going for it these days.

The good news is that the University hired snow ploughs that clear off the roads and parking lots on campus! Those who know Case Western will tell you that this is quite a step forward for us.

We're only two days out now.

My dress rehearsal was yesterday morning. I was really quite tired when it finished, but I had been playing for three and a half hours straight, so I'm not expecting the same result on Monday.
There were a couple of friend's recitals last night, but because of the snow I decided not to go out (the wipers don't work in the winter, and I wonder how well my tires are cut out for snow...this car is from Florida, after all.)

So anyway, that's what's new from the land that is Cleve... snow and a recital. Its hard to be any more observant that this while sitting in the car watching four year olds on their way to their cello lesson stagger past in the the snow. I can't say I'm handling the lack of internet well. I'm going through withdrawal. I just hope nothing important comes up via email that I would hav to have access to right away...

Anyway, it's eleven, and the only things I've accomplished today are to shovel the walk and come down here and check my email. A lot of viola playing involved...


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How much strain can a brain handle? Stay tuned and find out...

These next few days will demonstrate beyond any certain doubt that there are limits to what a brain can handle at any one given moment. And the results of exceeding those boundaries.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad.
But I'd like to think it is.

The recital looms before us. A mere five days away now. Have I been getting enough practice time? No. And who's fault is that? Probably mine.

I don't think it's practice time that I need though. I feel as though all of the work that is put forth in trying to learn better technique and become a better musician disappears the minute stress is involved. Things don't work the same way any more. All of the muscles you've trained to do one thing decide it's a brilliant time to take a vacation and stop working. OPr perhaps they declare a strike. In any case, it's marvelously frustrating trying to get good work done when all you seem capable of doing is getting through a piece, let alone sounding good! I'm not interested in just sounding okay! I know I can do better. And yet I seem to be incapable of it.

I suppose I thought I would be getting over this sort of nervous tension by this point in my life. I've been at this for a while. Actually I'm not nervous about the recital. Performing. That'll be fine.

What I'm nervous about is the fact that I can't seem to control my playing right now. It has a mind and will of its own, and its desires are not aligned with mine.

Oh well. This is the way it will be forever. At least until this existence ends. What are you learning or how are you growing unless you encounter resistance, right? If its easy, then you're not changing anything.

In any event, its the same song and dance...I'd better get back to work. I'll write again soon, I'm sure...


Monday, November 14, 2005

Chicks Dig Guys With Excessive Shoulder Hair...

Don't we look just like big teddy bears?! Huh?

Okay, those who know me know that that is not myself pictured here.
It's my brother.

But I do want to call attention to what seems to be a growing amount of body hair that has been slowly but deliberately carpeting my body.

When the whole phenomenon of chest and stomach hair began, I will confess, I was quite proud. It seemed manly. And after only one experiment in shaving it off (it's aerodynamic, baby!) I learned to stop that behavior, because the hair seemed to grow back with a vengence. Feeling spited, it called on its compatriots to take up arms in neighboring folicles, weaving a tight forest of impenetrable man hair, wrapping my torso in a coarse mane.

But that was a while ago. Shouldn't the vengence have stopped by now?

Showering the other day I realized my arms have begun to look a little like hairy hams. (Muscular hams, of course.)
This is not peach fuzz. Oh no. Peach fuzz I can handle. These are the thick black hairs that you find shooting up where you body feels the need to cover itself.

I begin to worry.

A little hair was fine. It was great to shed my clothes Tarzn-style and run around, loins clad in buckskin, knowing the tufts of fine Scandinavian-bred body hair glinted in the sunlight and rippled in the wind like the prairie grass of the serengetti.

But now...

Now it might seem more as though I were some strange half-man half-mutant monkey who's diabolical creators didn't have the decency to finish their monster, leaving him to roam the lands with his soft pink flesh only partially covered in a bewildering assortment of body hair.

I'm not wishing for more. In fact, I wish for less.
I guess I show concern for where this might stop. I am interested in knowing if I will have "chest hair" sprouting from my collar, climbing up my neck like some vine intent on choking the life from me.

Will I succumb to the male wonder of "shoulder hair"? This would undoubtedly make summer-time activities more of a challenge, as most people don't really want to go down the waterslide after the "hairy guy." The bottom of the pool looks like the shower after my sisters have used it.

Still, for now, I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm the only one who stands in front of the mirror and wonders if this hair is normal. Perhaps I'll meet a woman who will attack me with a razor and do away with all unwanted man fur. I'd like to know how we handle the impending reprisal, but I suppose we'll cross that T when we come to it...

For belly button lint and hair are getting tangled, and it's pinching me.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

How Can I Possibly Be the Only Person who has constantly confused these two actresses?

Do you know who they are?
One is infinitely more famous these days than the other.

Okay...on the right, is Jennifer Aniston, and on the left is Maura Tierney.

Both were made famous by their respective television shows on NBC during the 90's. Aniston for Friends and Tierney for ER.

Both are similar of age, hair color, facial features, blah blah blah.

So why is when I mistake one for the other, I get ridiculed?!

Someone please tell me that you've never mistaken these two?

Jim Carrey's worked with both of them. Now you can't tell me the coincidences aren't getting more and more difficult to deny!

I think it's a conspiracy.

Maura and Jennifer are cousins, seperated from each other at youth, and were intrinsically drawn back to work in the television and film.

Just think about it... I know you see it my way.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

There Will Never Be Enough Time for it All

This week is a marvelous demonstration on how time can slip by, leaving you with a handfull of projects to complete and no time left in which to do it.

I am playing with the Erie Philharmonic this weekend. Our first rehearsal is this evening. I'm carpooling with Trista, which I shall enjoy, because we haven't had much time to sit and talk in a couple of years. Yeah, it's really been that bad.

Stack on top of this my lesson. My recital. This is becoming my preiminent concern, and it's something that I've not had alot of time to worry about. Am I scared? No. Not yet. That probably happens next Thursday. Right now I'm validly concerned.

Somehow it must all be accomplished. But a better question, perhaps, is when? My typically late evenings make for later mornings (which seems logical, no? Why should I get only four hours of sleep just because I got to bed later?) and then you work the rest of the day, chasing after one project and another, never really seeing the fruits of labors. At least right now.

We shall overcome though. That's the good news. I don't know how or when, but it shall be accomplished, and everyone will be really happy. Hurrah!

For now, I have a lunch date and then to work study and then to practice and then to Erie and then to practice and then...


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I sure have been seeing alot of Baroque concerts lately... I think it's the company I keep...

Pictured here is Andrew Manze, violinist and director of the English Consort, a pre-eminent Baroque ensemble from - well, England. Duh.
Mr. Manze took over for Trevor Pinncock a few years ago, a name which I recognized and find infintely more entertaining to say.

The concert was really quite good. If there's one thing that I'm learning, its that Baroque music is seldom boring - its usually far more entertaining to listen to an entire concert, because the musicians are more engaging.

The Real Question: Is it that the music is more delightful, or does any baroque ensemble recognize the precarious state that Baroque performance find itself in right now (on the verge of a revival, but still relatively unknown) and do they find the need to engage us through humor and charm because they need to build an audiene base?

Good question.

Thank you. That's why I asked it.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but one thing is true. The recent resurgence of popularity with Baroque music has led many cities to adopt fledgling Baroque ensembles and nurse them to strength, which is what happens anytime any city is prepared to build their artistic culture. It was done with the symphony orchestra around the turn of the twentieth century, and then again in the 70's, and now perhaps it is time for a new wave of musical arts to take hold in major cities.

I for one, have no problem with it at all. As I said, the music is quite delightful, and it does require a great deal of artistry to make this music really live again.

Perhaps one reason there is a sudden interest (more so) and appetite for Baroque traditions is that its not the symphonic traditions which have become quite familiar with American audiences. Concerts don't have the same format, the performers often interact with the audience much more closely than a full symphony. The concert halls themselves are smaller, (because these instruments are not as loud) and there is an air of improvisation about the programming and performance. All of this leads to a light-hearted not-what-you-expect attitude during the concerts, where improvisation is common, and program orders can be dismissed in favor of more appropriate tunes.

Does this mean I'm ready to throw in the towel and pick up my re-strung De Salo? No, it does not. Baroque people are weird. They look like the illegitimate children of librarians and gypsies. And they kind of smell like it too.

In any event, the music does not speak to me quite the same way. However, in the rapidly changing climate of the arts, from a business standpoint, these will be good skills to have in the next forty years or so.


Friday, November 04, 2005

My Belly Button Is the World's Single Largest Producer of Belly Button Lint in America

I wonder if there's a way to market that...

And in case you're wondering, yes, that is my belly to the right. Toned, tightened and firm, I've recently gotten into wearing mid-riffs and belly chains. Just to keep the girls guessing.

I realized this morning as I pulled lint out of my belly button from my bed sheets that my stomach must somehow be spage-aged designed to attract every available fiber within a four foot radius of the black hole that is my "innie."
Every day It is possible to pull out a nice little thumbnail full of lint, (corresponding to the color of shirt I was wearing that day.) but this morning was a new one! I've never recalled culling lint from bed sheets before. Perhaps this is a gift! Perhaps I could market this! Sell this!
Perhaps I should begin to stuff pillows with the lint I find laying around my body. I could embroider them myself, spelling out niceties as "grandma's little angel" and "I love dad" and then fill them with my belly lint.

I guess you all know what you're getting for Christmas.

What strikes me as more of an oddity, however, is the fact that with each gathering of lint, there is always at least one tummy hair in there with the mix. I'm puzzling as to where I still have belly hair to lose to the belly button. Every day! It's like my stomach's balding. Or it's rejecting the hair or something.

In any event, I suppose I should start saving this lint for whatever purposes my business advisors recommends. I'll be sure to let you all in on the IPO, however. It's gonna be big. And all thanks to the all-natural cotton gin on my stomach.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Short List of some of the Greatest Lead Singers Ever

Where would a band be with out the front man? You need to have the audacious, outrageous personality of the lead singer to really sell the band. But of course some did better than others...

David Lee Roth
Freddie Mercury
John Fogherty
Geddy Lee
Anthony Keidis
Chris Cornell
Zach De La Rocha
Robert Plant

Special competition to the first person who can tell me which bands these singers performed with. Ready, set go!!!!


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cleveland Police Finally Receive Non-Lethal Sidearms.

Such have the headlines been in Cleveland for the past few weeks. Apparently this is a big deal since the Cleveland police really don't have anything better to do than drive around in their squad cars shooting up black ghettos. But the minute they actually hit some poor urban child of the street who is making his living by selling drugs, the whole world arupts. Never mind the fact that they could actually have been acting in self-defense.

I dunno though... I was leaving a baseball game once and drove by a police car that had a man in cuffs, and another woman was screaming at the police about brutality, about how she had witnessed it first hand and would report them. What caught my attention is that the man was a black man, possibly homeless, and the woman was a middle-aged white woman standing next to her Volkswagon. not exactly the first person who would be stepping out of line to help out the street corner bum, you know?

Anyway, I digress.

This whole taser gun fascination was prompted by the kiling of some kid a few months ago that was shot when police thought he had a gun - and it turned out he didn't.
Public outrage. A great outcrying. Blood and tears flood the streets. The cry for the heads of those responsible.

How about tasers? Every other police force in a large city has them? Oh yeah....

So what's the first incident to occur where the tasers are used? Ta-da! A Halloween shake-down involving a naked man running up to little trick-or-treaters!

Ah, Cleveland.

The police stopped him on Fairmount (those of you who know Cleveland know where that is in proximity to where I live) and had to shock the bejabbers out of him so he would stop harassing six-year olds on their way to their next cavity. He went to the hospital for the night (apparently there's some law against leaving a naked man unconcious in the street. Gives a bad image.) and then was released.

Here's the better part:

The next day police respond to a 911 call and arrive at a home to find the same guy trying to kick down a door to his own house. They taser the guy again and haul him off.

Now, not that this isn't amusing, but is this really the most interesting tale of taser-dom that this city has to offer? It does make the gun shootings sound a little bit more credible, don't you think? At least then people outside of the city took us seriously.

"Don't mess with Cleveland man, they'll gun you down!"

Now we're lucky if we get a naked man parading up and down the street to mess with...


Monday, October 31, 2005

Recommended DVD: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Directed by: Tim Burton Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder

Tim Burton has had quite a year. This summer's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the season's biggest hits. Even despite it's main-stream success, Tim Burton fans are still devoted to the more gothic painterly style of Burton's earlier works such as the original Batman, and Beetlejuice. This fall saw another Burton film, the stop-motion film Corpse Bride which I reviewed in an earlier column. This of course was harkening back to the success of the Nightmare Before Christmas. Even though his work has been very diverse and prolific, his work still carries his own distinct identity.

...and his films always suffer from the same problem, in my opinion. And that is a lack of depth in the story-telling. On more than one film I have noticed what seems to be a shortage of story elements. The films have great first act plots, but when it comes time to develop the characters - and more specifically, the plot, his movies fall short, and left me feeling short-changed. (I think specifically of the stories of Sleepy Hollow and Corpse Bride both had plots that had great concepts, but failed to develop them.

Still, Burton has his moments. Not only is Scissorhands a moment, but I believe it is his greatest film to date. It is certainly the defining film of his career.

This film falls cleanly into his earlier work, more in line with Sleepy Hollow, than his latter body, the likes of Big Fish. Relying heavily on every day items and conventions to create eerie and unsettling circumstances. One of the main characters is an Avon lady - unsettling enough in itself.
The film does not feel it necessary to explain the origins of Edward except to say that he was created by a mysterious inventor (played by Vincent Price) who died before completing Edward, leaving him with scissors for hands. Upon one of her rounds as Avon representative, Peg (played by Diane Wiest) decides to take the lone Edward home to live with her and her family. It doesn't take long for all of the neighbors to learn of the new visitor, and Edward soon makes his niche in town by cuttinng topiary and women's haircuts. Invariably though, due to jealousy and misunderstanding (nothing like a leather-clad freak wandering around town to raise questions) he is driven back to his isolated existence, having captured the affection of the young Winona Ryder. This movie is entirely engrossing - not in any small part because of the assortment of colorful characters, but even at the age of 27, Johnny Depp was achieving impressive characterizations that still amaze and mezmorize. It is odd to think after seeing this film that he has taken so long to rise to super-stardom.

I highly recommend this film. It is shoved into the horror film catergory, but alike Saw, this film has less in common with that genre than you would think. This film does have the freakish and unsettling character of Edward Scissorhands whom is always startling out of place with his surroundings, but this film is about a poor person who can not find a home.
Four and out of Five


Sunday, October 30, 2005

A view of my room here in Cleveland. . .

DVD Recommendation: Saw (2004)
Directed by: James Wan Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell and Danny Glover

This was a movie that I was not expecting to enjoy. Part of the recent surplus of horror cinema, I expected this film to be nothing more than a mindless slasher film, capitalizing on the audience's insatiable appetite for gore.

I was quite wrong! This film is less like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more like Silence of the Lambs.
A plot that starts out as a typical physo-thriller as the two central characters wake up finding themselves chained to opposite walls of a bathroom. As the plot unfolds, the killer's movites are similar to other killers - wanting to punish wrong doers for their sins and transgressions, and making them realize the error of their ways. The victims can escape, if they're willing to do unspeakable acts to themselves or other innocent victims which surround them. In this case, one character is left with a saw sharp enough to cut through bone, but not sharp enough to cut through the chains that hold him captive. To escape, he must....well, just look at the DVD cover.

There are several good twists throughout this movie which kept me engrossed and entertained. There was good lore built up around the villianous character. Even though this was the first appearance of "Jigsaw," you were easily drawn into the imagery and mythos surrounding this killer.

I would highly recommend this movie for those who enjoy a good thriller/scare. Here's hoping it's sequel (in theatres now) lives up to the family name.

Four out of five.
Cows! There be Cows afoot!

This past week saw the arrival of two baby cows at my home in MN. Their names are Ivory and Ebony, although I don't know what the difference is, since they're both cow-colored.
We are not permitted to become friendly with the cows, because after all - they are going to be hamburger in a year! Yummy! And various dilectable cuts of steak that I've never had! We're all going to get spoiled on excellent steak cuts...who's going to want the normal stuff then?

Anyway, for you animal lovers out there, here they are... see how cute? Yeah, we're gonna kill 'em! Ha ha!

Apparently they eat like horses. Little baby horses. We'd eat those too...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ever notice the emerging body of male singer/song-writers on the market these days?
Look at an average morning of music videos, and you'll notice an interesting trend - the return of the simplistic dude-and-a-keyboard genre.
What's up with this?
I'm inclined to believe that somewhere along the line, all of the market analysis that these record labels do showed that a goodly percentage of us people who are not ghetto rockers were getting a little left-out by the urban take-over of the popular radio waves.
So is this the industry's answer? I'm not necesssarily complaining, mind you. Most of this music has been far more interesting and valid than most of the mindless hip-hop music bombarding the air waves. It has to be. A song featuring just piano and voice can't exist only on I, IV, V chords and remain interesting.
But quickly, a list of a few of the artists who have come to the light in the spirit of this new trend: Aqualung, Jamie Kallum, Gavin DeGraw, Keane, and John Legend. I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting, but hopefully you all will recognize at least one of those people so that you can understand my drift.

Many of these artists are being released on jazz albums or being touted as "jazz artists or vocalists" which is truer to the spirit of their music than "rock artist" and for the moment, their music is more engaging to a musician's ear than most stuff on the air waves. Their musical instincts won't let them get away with tedium, repetition, and their musical heroes and idols prompt them to probe more complex and interesting musical routes. Good for the listener.

Now let us not forget that these boys are all part of the American music machine, however, so it would be foolish of us to assume that these artists entire albums are gems - more than likely, there are the few songs on the radio that we see, and then there's eight songs of filler on the rest of the album. Sad, but true.

Not really an opinion piece this time - just interesting, don't you think? Check out Jamie Cullum's "Get Your Way" for a really fun song. Really harkening back to an older, grander era in song-writing and arranging. The horn parts are great.

All for now. Back on the road...


...Kickin' Butt on Mario Kart Double Dash...

Now accepting all challengers! I've been getting some practice in with the good pixelated Nintendo characters that we all know and love - of course Mario and Luigi, (as pictured here) but my personal favorite are the winged turtle and little shroom-boy. No, I'm sorry, I don't know their real names. I guess I'm not that into the lore. They're not Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong or King Koopa. That's all I know...

...And what else do I know?! That I could kick your butt! Ha ha! Just wait till we get to the Rainbow Road (or the gay pride parade as its otherwise known as.) Or Baby Park - that's a good course too.

Okay, I'm really tired. I gots to go to bed.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Announcing the Most Annoying Thing I've Heard in Recent History...

I have no idea how this idea ever became as big a hit as it is, but it just helps me to lament the poor taste of modern-day young ears. It started out as some ring tone or something, but it only takes 0.005 of a second for me to convulse in disgust when I hear this stupid "crazy frog" song. I want to shoot someone through the eye.

I'm not violent at all.


Friday, October 21, 2005

A studio outing a few years ago to Cedar Point Amusement Park. My green sleeve is at the furthest-most right of the photo. But the expression on Chuck's face is what really makes this photo.... Kevin seems to be having a good time, and then there's Chuck.
P.S. This is an awesome coaster...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meet New-Wave French Pop Recording Artist April March

Usually I could begin a paragraph like this because I recently saw or heard the performer in concert. Today is a little different.

Today, I babysat for the recording artist April March. Of course she uses a stage name, so to her two sons Pierot and Lusian, she is mommy. To her husband she is something else. To me, she is an enigma.

I baby-sat for seven hours today. This is a duty usually carried by my friend Kevin, but he has gone to Florida for the weekend (just in time for Wilma) so they needed someone else to cover for a few days. I was happy to oblige for now, although I realize that this is something I could never consider doing full-time like Kevin does. It leaves you no time left over for anything else. Not only socializing, but also for practicing. It would be hard to forward a career as a musician when you spend all of your time caring for another musician's children.

This woman has quite an amazing career...not only is she quite a prominent French recording artist, but before she began all of her work as a musician, she also was an animator for the original Ren and Stimpy cartoons. Remember back in the day? This was probably 10 -15 years ago, but still exceedingly awesome, none the less. And now she is here in Cleveland (for no apparent reason,) and her husband is a concert promoter who is coordinating a big concert in honor of Sam Cooke which includes the likes of Gavin McGraw, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Costello. Just a normal, average American family...

Their walls are covered by the wildest assortment of photographs, paintings (most of which she did) and posters. My favorite was a candid photo of Isaac Hayes in his home office. Seconded only by a letter from the federal patent office (I'm not sure what for) which had President Andrew Jackson's signature on it.

And while I was there this afternoon, she got a call from someone at the Cartoon Network about helping to develop some characters for a new television show.

And I cooked organic macaroni and cheese for Pierot.

By the way, the picture which is her latest album cover, does not look a whole lot like her. Make-up goes along way. Not that she's unbecoming, it's just quite a glamourized image. At home she's a normal mom. Sort of. She spent most of the day at her laptop listening to music while I tended to Pierot in the back room. So she was actually home all day. I think she just didn't want to be too worried about the kids if she had other work to do. Go figure.

In any event, I must convince myself to make something useful happen tonight. I was out of the house all day, and this is my first free self-time. My inclination is to sit and relax, but I don't think I should allow myself to do that.

Who shall win? Nobody knows...


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The White Stripes Announce Newest Single from "Get Behind Me Satan"

The cover for the CD single, (pictured here) is different than two versions of 7" vinyl, each of which pictures similar elements of a bicycle, either Jack or Meg and a racoon. Does this have antyhing to do with anything? Who knows...

The single for this release is the Denial Twist which I enjoy much more than their last single, My Doorbell. The B-side on this single is In the Shelter of Your Arms although on two different vinyl versions, the B-side is different. So there are three different potential versions of the single to be released in mid-November.

Does this sound like a suspicious marketing ploy? Only slightly...


Sunday, October 16, 2005

This marks the end of an exceptionally busy week...

...This is why you haven't heard much of me here of recent.

My apologies.

I don't know how long this will last either, simply because I am thoroughly exhausted right now. I played a gig which lasted ALL day today. I got up at five AM and didn't get home until 9:30. It has been a looong day.

I played at Parkside Church this morning, playing in an orchestra for the special occasion of Keith Getty providing the special music. His forte is music arranging, so he had music for a string orchestra plus all of the normal drums, basses and guitars to bang away with us. It is enjoyable while the music is going, but the whole day ends up being very very long.
So I played in both their morning and evening services, and during the afternoon, I went to my friends' apartment. It was the first time I'd seen them both since they got married this summer, so it was great to see their new apartment and their two kittens. Plus she cooked green chili chicken enchaladas for lunch! It was quite yummy.

Sadly the paycheck from this won't come for another week or so. It can never come too soon.

This next week shouldn't be so busy, but we are actually on the verge of our fall break! Alot of people are taking off for home or trips, but my first stint with the Toledo Symphony begins during the break, so I won't be able to go anywhere. Hopefully out to see my aunt, at least...

In any event, I must get some sleep. Two hours wasn't quite enough for last night. It's a good thing I just had some sushi. I'm sure that's a great late-night snack.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Movie Review: A History of Violence
Directed by: David Cronenberg Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris

Seldom does a movie come along that critics hail as "one of the year's very best" or talking about how "other movies will have to sweat bullets to match the thrills and subversive wit"
So when it does, one decides that they had better go see it, especially when they're a film-addict like myself.

When I first saw the preview for this film, I went through my normal reaction "ooh, that looks good, but it's probably really going to stink." Because history has taught me that the best parts of a film are always in the previews. So it's relatively smaller precentage of the time when a film actually lives up to expectations. Why is this? We'll have to save that for another time...

So upon hearing that this film was receiving very positive buzz, I grabbed my friend Jackswillydilly and headed to the theatre, expected to be drawn into a film of intrigue and mystery as we learned why Viggo Mortensen is (as Ed Harris' character puts it) "so good at killing people." Yes, indeed, why?

Let me first tell you what I thought the plot summary of this movie would be:

Viggo Mortensen's character (Tom Stall,) a small-town family man runs a diner and all is well with the universe until Tom foils a potential heist on his restaurant. His bravery attracts nation-wide media attention, and he is recognized by Philadelphia Mafia boss, played by Ed Harris. Ed Harris comes to pay his respects (i.e. kill) to "Johnny." Eventually Tom ends up killing Ed Harris and his cronies as well. My thought was that throughout this movie, Tom Stall would be revealed as a military operative, or something equally enthralling, allowing us to watch the violent deaths while still celebrating Tom's heroism. He kills only bad men. It's not the most original idea, but its not the story, its how you tell it. After killing all the bad men, he returns home to his wife and family to resume his quiet life, and his family would tearfully welcome him home. Fade out.

What really happens:

Tom Stall runs his diner, and brutally kills two men who attempt to rob him. When we start to wonder why Tom is so good at killing people, it turns out, that used to be Tom's living - a hitman for the mob. And it's not even as cool as it sounds. Tom just walks around and twists of arms, bashes in noses and shoots people through the top of their heads. And those were just the first few murders.

Am I supposed to laugh this much during a film? I usually don't laugh this much during comedies.

There was so much wrong with this film, it's hard to know where to start. The script itself was such a horrible display of re-heated cliches. It would seem that the screenwriters sifted through reject scripts from various slasher films, and assembled their own script, page by page. For being "small-town" Indiana, everyone in it seemed horribly out of place, as though they were uncomfortably cue-carding their way through scenes of rural simplicity. Having seen the previews, we know there's more to Viggo than meets the eyes, but I didn't know they were going to telegraph it during the whole film.
Another of the most unbelievable and outlandish parts of this film was the relationship between Tom and his wife, who is the second most important character in the film. Not only did they look out of place in Hollywood's version of Small Town, but their intimate life is apparently something the filmmakers decided we all needed to take part in. This was akward enough for the film, but the unbelievable circumstances under which their romantic encounters took place bordered on ludicrous. (Think cheerleader outfits and comically close camera shots of various armpits.) The other encounter ends up more like a rape than anything else. What in the world does this have to do with the film?!

One of my favorite funny scenes of this film deals with the local high school bully whose the nemesis of Tom's oldest son. After catching the bully's pop fly during phys ed class, the bully has it out for Tom's son in the most comic of manners, glaring daggers and grinding his teeth as hard as he possibly can. I'm not sure I'd call this "razor-sharp wit" Mr. Cronenberg. It's not exactly wit if you smack us in the face with it, is it?

Ed Harris, a fine actor, seemed to be a cardboard representation of a mob boss constructed from the left-overs of all the other B-grade mob films. He dies halfway through the film, and I'm sure he was happy about it.

As Tom Stall's character unfolds, we would hope there would be some valid explanation for his alter-ego and how he came to live in Buttcrack Indiana. But no. What they supply us with is a tossed-off dialogue between husband and wife about how Tom "killed" Jackie, and he "thought he was gone!" as though Tom were a real life Smeagol, who had easily disposed of the evil Gollum.
See, doesn't that make alot of sense?

Eventually, since everyone in America has heard about Tom's bravery, his older brother, a mob boss in Philly has him brought back to Philly to - what else? kill him for being such a jerk when he was younger. Ah, sibling rivalry. But it wouldn't make much sense to have our hero die now, so let's have Tom kill everyone in as violent a way as we can concoct, and then have him drive the 16 hours back to Indiana just in time for a luke-warm meatloaf dinner with mashed potatos and peas. And the little wavy-cut carrots. Those are yummy.

This is a horrible review. Disjointed, mispelled and half congealed. Thank goodness it's still ten times better than this film.

One out of Five
Announcing the Two Coolest Gift Ideas in 58 Years!!

Don't know what to get those hard-to-shop-for friends and relatives? Well, stop trying! Go out and buy something for yourself! Something you'd really enjoy! Nay, love even! Something which you have loved since childhood! Weren't a child then? Well, you felt like one anyway... Anyone could get me these for Christmas. That's all I really care about.

Introducing the Complete Works of the Late Twentieth Century's Greatest Cartoonists!!

Thanks to the foresight of the publishing house Andrews McMeel, we are allowed to posess the collected works of Bill Watterson and Gary Larson, creators of the imcomparable Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side (respectively)

Gary Larson's the Far Side ran for fourteen years in papers all across America, and his early retirement was a shock to his millions of avid readers. For a while our appetite was sustained by the yearly off-the-wall calender, but even this project met its demise a few years ago. We were left with only our previously released volumes of Far Side to keep us happy. Even though these books contain all of the previously pre-released material that you could find in other collections, its never looked so good! Leather bound with completely original paintings for the book covers and sleeve. And if you don't like the insides of the books, the complete set weighs in at nearly 17 pounds - perfect for a nice paperweight. A large paperweight.

Calvin and Hobbes captures so many moments of my childhood memories; eating tomato soup and reading the collections - trying not to get soup all over the pages and failing. I remember Calvin's childhood being so much of what I wish mine was. (Apologies to my mother.) His imagination fueled possibility for me. Watterson's drawing style was captivating and yet whimsical. It was never rigid, but was always fluid and naturalistic, inviting you in to partake in the world of six year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. How much simpler and innocent can a concept become? And yet its possibilities were endless.
Just like his characters, Bill Watterson's imagination for what a comic strip could be pushed the boundries of the establishment, and he continually voiced his malcontent at the restrictions placed on the size and shape of his work. He won major victories for himself and other comic artists who called the news page home, but the syndicate pressure took such a toll that it led to Watterson's year-long sabatical, and eventual retirement at the age of thirty-eight, only a decade into his career.
America has not been able to say good-bye to Calvin and Hobbes though. His work has re-surfaced and been re-cultivated in new ways, including an art exhibit at Ohio State University featuring fifty of Watterson's Sunday strips. This complete collection, like Larson's Far Side collection has all been previously availble in previous collections, but never all at once, and never so handsomely. Again leather-bound, these books are intended for the long haul, and come in a similarly decorated sleeve featuring classic images from Calvin and Hobbes.

These represent not only the true art form that can be achieved (not only visual artistry, but also story-telling) by the rarely-recognized cartoonist. They also represent the faults in a system that no longer allows for any range of creative expression. If you look at the page of comics in any newspaper today, you will find a rare example of a talented cartoonist who is not only creative and entertaining visually, but also creative and entertaining with their humor. The syndicates who license and distribute these cartoonists work, like so many other businesses, strangle creativity and artistic license for the convenience of a quick dollar. Here are two artists who simply got fed up with the process, and took a higher road in maintaining the integrity and validity of their work, and gracefully bowed out.

A note on the humor of these artists: Unlike so many strips today which focus on political satire, social commentary or observational ramblings, these two minds chose an avenue seldom traveled by contemporary artists: escapism. Whether it was Larson's turning the screws one notch too tight on the lucridity of modern life and it's pitfalls, or Watterson's six year-old innocence which was untouched by the cares or worries of the world, they both afforded us an opportunity to escape from our world and into theirs, which often times appeals much more to my mind than the existence I have. I believe this is only a part of why their work will remain timeless and be considered and studied by future generations.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Thoughts on Good Night and Good Luck

This movie, a limited release now, and probably depending on its popularity in those cities, may see nation-wide release. This George Clooney-directed film tells the story of the journalists who attempted to bring down Senator McCarthy during the height of the red scare during the 1960's.

To me this film is suspiciously timed. Over the past year or so we have heard incessant festering over the various partisan standings of one news group or another. One claims to be right-winged, another left, but all hoping that we'll swallow the notion that they're "fair and impartial." Anyone who does believe this is rather gullible. I can't help but believe that this film panders to the later.

What better vehicle could there be to bolster the news giants' credibility than a film recalling the golden age of the news giants' power. How many times have the stories of Woodward and Bernstein been told? The brave and courageous reporters who risked it all to expose the corruption of the White House. We see the same spirit of valor and patriotism promoted with this film, suggesting that this group of six journalists attempted to selflessly expose the injustices of the American government to it's citizens. As true as a story as this may be, again, I say the timing of this project is suspicious.

At a time when America has never had more choices in where to get their news information from, we are less and less turning to the giant news organizations like CBS, NBC or ABC, let alone the news-only channels such as CNN. The networks realize this, and wish to reclaim and relive their glory days when theirs was the only voice in news information.
Now with the accessability of news blogs available to anyone who would search them out, anyone in the world can receive news straight from the front lines of any international affair.
But you can argue there is no journalistic integrity in these small blogs or news channels. They don't have the prestige or reputation that the old news organizations have! But sadly we've seen the credibilty and impartiality of these news empires crumble during the last few years as their desire to position politically outweighed their integrity in choosing what to report.

I personally see this film as a death throe from an industry that is built and supported not only by the old news giants, but also by Hollywood - and it's an industry that knows its impact is so diminished now that it must rely on heroes that are long since gone to try and garnish any kind of loyalty.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Recollections of Toys (Childhood and Beyond)

Toys are very important to me. Anyone who knows me now knows that I treasure that which amuses me probably alot more than that which benefits me in any profound way. But whatever. I'll live longer.

Toys have always been really important to me. I can recall exact toys that I played with (I won't recall the age at which I played with those toys, because that could be embarassing) in which house I played with them, and in which room or in which pile of dirt or mud those toys had the fortune of calling home.

What is pictured here is one of my earlier memories of a electronic horse that would loll it's passenger back and forth. Pretty simple. Classic. This particular horse is definitely much older than I, but it is one of the last remaining vestiges of my early childhood days. This horse is kept at a Benjamin Franklin's. Probably only a few people know what I'm talking about when I say that name. They were sort of an anything and everything store for towns whose population had not crested 10,000. They were the female compatriot to the Pamida. There was a sizeable second floor consisting of fabrics, clothing patterns and everything else seamstresses would need to equip themselves. But in the basement... in the basement there used to be one of the most magical assemblages of toys! Toys that no one else had! Toys that no one thought kids should have! Toys that had long since stopped being made, but had found their way to the shelves of this tiny store in Minnesota. And every once in a while, my siblings and I would get to bring something home from this store. These were always amongst the best toys.
This is because they were real toys. Not like the cheap knock-offs you found at Kmart and elsewhere. If you bought a toy pistol (as I was very fond of) at Kmart, it would be plastic, weigh about 5 oz. and would break soon after you got it home. This led you on a never-ending crusade to find real, tough toy guns and weapons with which you might destroy all foes, imaginary or otherwise. The best not-cheap toy guns came from Benjamin Franklin. These guns were made of heavy plastic, perhaps even metal (if you were lucky) and felt very significant in your hand. There was sense of empowerment there, even for a six year old.

The concept of a "real" toy, or at least a plaything which had (in my mind) an added element of realism reached to the horse toy above. The horse was a glossy plastic - not very convincing at all, but what always made me run to it and clambor on it's back was the saddle! Why this saddle was as good as real! It was made of leather, now worn my so many years' worth of childrens butts, and the clincher- it had a metal horn, fasteners and stirrups. If anything contained metal, it was professional quality.

There is one toy I loved and adored for the short while I had it, and to this day, I still wonder where it disappeared to.
Staying in the spirit of this moment, it was, of course, a gun. But this was no pistol. No mere handgun! This was a fully-automatic sub-machine gun! Capable of decimating the oncoming hordes of invading Germans with a simple tug at it's plastic trigger.
Okay, this gun WAS plastic, but this was the heavy-duty sort of plastic I mentioned earlier. You had no fear of playing with this gun. It could take the abuse.
It was bought from Benjamin Franklin's sidewalk sale during the "Crazy Days" promotions for all of the local businesses. All of the downtown stores lined the closed-off street with tables and put out hundreds of grey bins, displaying their wares. I had recently had a birthday and had my grandma's $10 birthday money burning a hole in my anxious shorts. My dad and I went down to the "Crazy" madness and I found myself looking through the bins in front of Benjamin Franklin and coming across a small collection of toy firearms. Such delight! A small child's delirium is only compounded when he realizes he actually has the money to buy his shiny new trinket! Such was my excitement, I didn't even make it home before playing with it. My dad and I sat down on the curb, and I watched as he un-twisted and un-screwed the gun from it's constraints.

Thus began an era of unprecedented make-believe. Wooden guns and imagination will take you part of the way, but with a good piece of hardware, the benefit is tremendous. It's more like having a side-kick along who always wants to play exactly the way you do. And the side-kick shoots bullets.
One day, as my make-believe plans demanded, I found myself climbing the tree in our front yard, side-kick firearm in tow. At some moment, I got into an argument with my older brother, and who's fault it was is now beyond my memory, but the gun slipped from my lap and fell to the sidewalk, where the tip of it's barrel shattered. I remember holding my brother solely responsible. And then being sent to my room for my temper tantrum.
The tip was glued back together, but it's glory was only a shadow of its former self. It was still played with a great deal, but my child-self could never see too far beyond the gobs of glue.

Sometime soon after this, during the course of one of my games, the gun disappeared somewhere from which it never returned. We have since moved from that home, and I now live in another state, so I know the chances of finding this wonderful toy are nonexistant, but in the back of my mind, I wonder if one day I will open up my closet and find it propped up against the back, or inside my dishwasher between the glasses, or in a trash can, where I'll be able to rescue it at the last moment from certain destruction at the hands of the trash collector. Maybe a more realistic idea would be to find the same toy for sale some day in another Benjamin Franklin, and the whole story can be played out again. Except this time a 23 year-old wielding a toy gun may not elicit the same innocently-happy reactions from passer-byers.

Gigantic Fruit Threatens Small Neighborhood. Passing Motorists Amused at their Helpless Plight.
What happens when gene splicing meets stupidity

Driving down the road one day on my way back from a delicious Sunday brunch of Chinese cuisine, motorist Jackswillydilly (name changed to prevent the innocent from being drug into this) and passenger T. (because he doesn't know any better) were suddenly struck by the presence of a road-side object that demanded our keenest of attention.

It emerges slowly at first...nothing more than a gigantic blob of orange on the horizon, apparently camped out on the front lawn of some unsuspecting homeowner; perhaps completely without the resident's knowledge! These things can happen anywhere. Is someone having a used car sale?

We grow closer and realize that this gigantic beast of harvest has surrounded this poor house and its residents! At first we thought it might be a benevolent gourd, but no. Its intent was malicious. This is a deadly pumpkin, with the consumption of all who venture near its only motivation for existence.

As we grow near you can see it's vicious features - the blood-thirsty eyes and gap-toothed sneer reveal the blackness of its soul. Perhaps it feels it can conceal itself behind inanimate objects such as pickup trucks and telephone poles, but we sincerely hope that the citizen walking along the street realizes his/her iminent peril and soon makes his/her escape to safety. As behemoth as they can seem, these giant beasts can strike quickly and without provocation.

As we come in even closer, risking our own well-being, you can see the creature attempting to conceal itself behind the local plantlife and obstructions, possibly hoping we will not notice its existence and will venture close enough to it's open maw for it to make a snap at us. This unfortunate creature will have no such opportunity with us. The safty of Jackswillydilly and myself are paramount in my mind. We will venture no closer. At least for a while. For this moment in time, our curiosity satiated, we resume our travels, praying that the dear citizens trapped inside the house find means of a quick escape. Perhaps through a basement window, as long as the beast's well-known companions the Cabbage Patch Kids haven't set up camp behind their house.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Recently discovered/re-discovered music

Silage - Vegas Car Chasers (1998)

California-formed trio Silage was a short-lived ensemble that popped into the scene around the same time as Jars of Clay. The signed to the major label Sub*lime and made two full-length releases. Vegas Car Chasers was their last project.

In many ways this album was before its time. Silage's sound combines rap with metal with funky rhythms and bass lines, a style popularized today by such bands as Crazy Town and Limp Bizkit. Their song-writing is fun and amusing, with constantly unexpected turns and changing colors.

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

This marked the height of David Bowie's success during the 70's heyday of glam-rock. The song-writing on this album is remarkable. At times hard rock, at other times soulful ballad. The title track is a mixture of heavy-handed guitar riffs with a yearning melody, while the song "John, it's only Dancing" shows off Bowie's abilities to tell a detailed story through song.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Mars Volta: The Weirdest Thing Since Tur-Duc-En

Every once in a great while, a group comes along and does something so entirely unique and original, it seems to bend the very rules of physics around itself, rewriting history and making the us mere mortals quake in the shadow of such God-given genius.

Far more commonly, a group comes along who is intelligent enough and creative enough to combine that which was into something new and intriguing. Such is the case with the Mars Volta, a terrifically enigmatic ensemble culled from the ashes of the rock band At the Drive-In, headed by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (right) and vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala (the other.)
Their names go along way in laying the foundation for their mystique. The second part of their mystique is largely built out of human hair. Both of these gentlemen grow copious amounts.

To the music! That's what we're here for, after all... Correlations are drawn relatively frequently between the Mars Volta and Led Zeppelin, not only for certain stylistic elements, but by the power combination of both bands' lead singers and guitarists. With Led Zeppelin, the other two may have been overshandowed, but left their indelable mark; with the Mars Volta, it's hard to even find a photograph of anyone else in this band besides Omar and Cedric.

Then there's the musical similarities: Cedric Bixler Zavala has one of the best rock voices I've heard in a while. At times sweet and seductive, he can at a moments notice leap into the stratosphere and shatter glass seemingly effortlessly. Much of the time Cedric's words are obscured, but it doesn't matter. It is far more important to listen to the textures he creates using his voice than it is to discern what the heck these guys are talking about. (That harkens back to the enigmatic statement. When you can understand their lyrics, you can't.)
Omar Rodriguez's guitar playing does have alot of recollections of Jimmy Page; he is quite fond of building rock-heavy riffs and sitting on them throughout the length of a song, allowing the world to turn around his axis. At other moments, Omar will begin shredding guitar, and won't stop playing for a good solid five or six minutes, completely seperate and oblivious to what the rest of the Volta is doing. Bottom line: some of the most creative yet classic guitar playing I've heard in a while. Make room at the top for Mr. Rodriguez-Lopez.

So what's it sound like?
Okay, we've covered the Led Zeppelin impressions/influences, so other work that comes to mind is the complexity and layering you would find in Radiohead plus the vocal techniques of Rush mixed with the testicular fortitude of Guns 'n Roses and topped off with a healthy portion of latin salsa and merengue, just to keep things interesting.

Check them out. I own their latest, Frances the Mute and listen through it quite easily, especially since it has a track-less ideal to it, with good amounts of nothing but ambient noise to lull us into the world of the Mars Voltans.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Movie Review/DVD Preview: Kingdom of Heaven
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson

Following the recent traditions of gigantic epic films, I present to you Kingdom of Heaven, an over-blown, elephantine behemoth of a movie that collapse under the weight of its own gravitas.

The premise: Son (Bloom) is seperated from his father (Neeson) at youth, and sets up shop as a blacksmith where his father, now a knight on his way to the Crusades comes to convince him to return with him to battle and become a knight. Son agrees, and the two venture to the middle east, while father is killed en route. Son makes it to Jerusalem and wrests control of Jerusalem from the hands of the Turks with the help of the leper king, only to have the Turks return with an immense army and kick the ever-living daylights out of them. Sounds uplifting, no?

The only reason I write this now is because I see that it is coming out on DVD, and despite the rather ravishing previews for the DVD and the starpower of Orlando Bloom, I warn all to stay away from this film.
This movie begins every sort of worn-out idiom you could imagine for this sort of film. The jilted son that does not love his father, only to run to him after his wife is murdered, blah blah blah. The heroic yet tragically conflicted father returns to seek his son's forgiveness and give him a sword that he might smight down his enemies, only to discover that his son lives at peace with the quaint villagers in the armpit of France.

Once we arrive in Jerusalem, what to we find, except that the evil invading European christian knights are horrible stewards, are corrupt and treat the locals poorly. Contrast this with the righteous muslim Turks who have rightful claim to the lands where the invading knights are living. Such a cock-eyed view of the motives and truths behind the crusades is taken in this film, it is hard to imagine why they ever took place.
Enter: our hero. Orlando Bloom enters into this arrid desert with pure motives, and prospers. Inevitably, however, he is called upon to go to war for his king (whom is the most intriguing character of the film,) and goes on to conquer victorioiusly.
Eventually the final showdown between the surrounded crusaders and the turkish hordes come, and Orlando Bloom negotiates for the safe passage of all within the city in exchange for the city itself. So, in essence, Orlando Bloom looses the war, and yet is viewed as a hero because he saved the lives of his men. Say wha...? I'm not quite sure of the moral of this story. Except that there's nothing worth dying for, apparently. At least when you're as beautiful as Orlando Bloom there isn't.

The performances in this film are adequte. Liam Neeson's role in this film is surprisingly small, seeing as how he dies less than halfway through this film. Is it only me, or have we been seeing Mr. Neeson play the same role in films for the past year or so? (Think Batman Begins.) Orlando Bloom is relatively chill in this film, and seems rather distant.

Over all, I'd rather this film two out of five


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stolen Entries from Cookie Monster's Diary

These selected entries have been reproduced in their entirity, and have been left unedited. This blog is not responsible for the content of the following.


Today me go to Hoopers store to buy - what else? Cookies. Yummy cookies. I had craving for rum raisin cookie, but Hooper did not have rum raisin. I ask him if he had oatmeal chocolate chip. No, said Hooper. No oatmeal chocolate chip.
Cookie Monster getting frustrated! Googley-eyed monster needs sustainance! What kind of cookie does Mr. Hooper have? Only peanut butter.
Stupid peanut butter.
This is going to be a bad day.


Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie
Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Cookie Milk.


It been awhile since Cookie Monster write in diary. Sorry. Cookie Monster had to go away for awhile. The nice people at the hospital say Cookie Monster all better now! But they say I have to change my name. My name is now Alistair. Alistair C. Monster. But now, the C stand for... C stands for...C is for...for...C is


Okay. NOW doctor say Alistair all better. He say last time was his fault. It okay though, I no mind. I don't use my emotions as excuse for binge-eating. Doctor says I don't like my mommy. Sorry mommy. And sorry cookies, Alistair no need you no more. Now Alistair only eat good things! Crunchy things. Like bananas. And soft squishy things, like carrots. Me allowed to eat raisins still. Like raisins from yummy, me no say that word.


I really hate that Big Bird.


I go to dentist today to have teeth checked out. He say I have cavities. He says I no take care of teeth. Not true! I would brush my teeth if toothbrush wasn't so tasty. say I need 45 cavities. Is that alot? He tells me no more sweet foods. Boy have I been hearing that alot recently...


Dear Diary,
This is day 17 of what the news calls the great cookie war. Me not sure what they talk about. I am here in Hooper's store. Hooper is dead. I killed him with his own cash drawer about four days ago. He ran out of cookies. No one runs out of cookies while Cookie Monster is here! (Oh yes, I also kill doctor who change name to Alistair. He poop head.


The kind police officers let me have my diary in prison! I have been here for a while now. Judge calls it "cookie jail" but I no see no cookies in here. Telly and Oscar come and visit every once in a while, but the visits are fewer and fewer. You gotta be tough. You gotta be tough in the big house, man. . .

These journal entries were discovered left atop a simple grave in Connecticut where the head stone said "here lies Alistair C. Muenster; he has paid his debt to society. If he comes back, tell him his dry-cleaning is ready to be picked up." No one is quite sure of what to make of these documents, but it does lighten the suspicion of murder charges brought against Mr. Snuffleupagus after Cookie Monster's disappearance.

Bestest albums 2

Okay I'm back...for more, that is! Bwahahaha!
So here it is: more of the rest of the best with none of the less. Er. Lesser. That's what I meant to say. Really. Anyway, back to the list. . .

Jars of Clay - Jars of Clay (1995) and Much Afraid (1997)

This one was obviously a tough decision, and it didn't seem appropriate to list Jars of Clay albums twice, since the decision seemed to be between one or the other. Their first album, (Jars of Clay) started out as a school recording project and ended up being a great collection of songs. Their sophomore album I feel only improved their polish and technique. So which of these would I recommend? I don't think I could promote one over the other.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle (1990)

I know there are several great CCR albums (amongst my favorite are "Green River" and "Cosmo's Factory.") Still, this is just a great compliation of CCR's greatest hits in one location. This album is crammed full of their biggest hits from their earliest days to their last, and really lets you see why CCR was such a great band. Key Tracks: Aside from all of their own original tunnes, I really dig their eleven-minute version of "Heard it Through the Grapevine."

Nirvana - In Utero (1993)

This was Nirvana's final studio album. The follow-up to their break-through "Nevermind" it was often overshadowed and derided for it's more introverted style. The songs here are much more personal and introspective, not so much geared for the populace's ear, but more the sort of song that Kurt Cobain wanted to write. It wasn't even a year later that Kurt Cobain commited suicide, adding more poignacy and meaning to this collection of work. Key track: "Heart-Shaped Box"

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (1975)

Regarded often as Led Zeppelin's last great album, this was their sixth full-length studio work. This album actually ended up being a double LP set, which makes it the longest in the Zeppelin's repertoire. By this time the monster that was Led Zeppelin was world-reknowned for their concerts and recordings, and this represents the height of their swagger and bravado in full oozing-lava glory. Key tracks: "In My Time of Dying" and "Kashmir"

Led Zeppelin - IV (1971)

The remarkable thing you'll note if you compare the lists to each other is now Led Zeppelin's first album was released in '69. Two years later, they were already releasing their fourth. This prolific time in the band's history showed them only improving with age. Many regard this as The Led's finest album, but I personally find it a bit over exposed (what with the no.1 rated rock song of all time "Stairway to Heaven" being on this album.) But it is a work a careful listen, none the less. Key tracks: "Black Dog" and "When the Levee Breaks"

The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (2004)

Probably the newest album on this list, this is the Black Keys' third full length album. By this point, the Keys have built up great street cred, remaining true to their roots, and building a fan base by fine-tuning their craft via live shows all over America and abroad. I wasn't sure this would be an album I would like, since they stray further away from the straight-forward blues tunes that I felll in love with them for in favor of a more personalized song-writing style, but I haven't been able to stop listening to it! Well done boys. Key track: "10 am automatic"